European edition, Wednesday, May 23, 2007

When it comes to the Army in Europe, the question isn’t what’s changing, the question is, what isn’t?

Tuesday’s inactivation of the 22nd Signal Brigade and its subsidiary units was the latest indication of the Army’s evolution. But where are the soldiers who filled the unit’s ranks going to go?

The move from division-based combat formations to brigade combat teams with built-in capabilities to do just about everything for themselves requires that “we realign our signal capabilities to be able to better support those war-fighting formations,” Brig. Gen. Dennis L. Via, commander of 5th Signal Command, said after the inactivation of the 22nd.

That realignment calls for the inactivation of all Army’s corps-level signal brigades and division-level signal battalions.

The inactivation of the 22nd, which was V Corps’ signal brigade, is the largest signal unit inactivation planned for U.S. Army Europe. The signal battalions that supported the 1st Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions are both history as well.

The soldiers who manned these units are getting dispersed to newly created and soon-to-be created units throughout the Army, and to remaining signal brigades and battalions, which are undergoing a transformation of their own.

Many will get embedded in the signal companies that now support brigade combat teams, giving brigade commanders in-house communications abilities they used to have to go out and ask for, said Lt. Col. Derek T. Orndorff, commander of the 440th Signal Battalion, which inactivated Tuesday as part of the 22nd.

Others will fill roles in new expeditionary signal battalions, which are being stood up to fill the role that had been carried out by units like the 22nd, said Col. Frederick A. Cross, commander of the 22nd.

Division headquarters units will get their own signal staffs.

The recent switch to satellite-based communications has made it possible for considerably fewer troops to run the systems connecting soldiers at the front lines with planners in the rear and even back in Europe and the States, Cross said. The old land-based systems required more equipment, more soldiers and didn’t reach nearly as far or carry as much data, he said.

“It’s a different Army, it’s amazing,” said Master Sgt. Matt Shea, operations sergeant for the 22nd, who deployed with the 17th Signal Battalion, which inactivated in August.

Shea, who has been in the Army 22 years, mostly as a signal soldier, said the difference between what the old equipment and the new equipment — known as the Joint Network Node, or JNN — can do is “unreal.”

“Our old means of communication was mostly FM radios, a few microwave radios, a lot of land lines and wire communications,” Shea said. “This is a completely different age.”

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