By Sgt. Doug Roles
CAMP TAJI, Iraq — Soldiers of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Pennsylvania Army Nation-al Guard, marked the official end of their mission in Iraq on Monday with a transfer-of-authority ceremony. Commander Col. Marc Ferraro and Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. John Jones lowered the colors of the “Independence Brigade” in front of a crowd of soldiers and Iraqi government and military officials. “At the start of our mission I said, ‘The citizen Soldiers of Pennsylvania have always answered the call to duty,’” Ferraro told the audience. “They did just that.” “During the deployment we remained focused on the mission. The soldiers of the Independence Brigade served side-by-side with Iraqi soldiers to ensure security.” Brigade soldiers performed more than 800 combined operations with Iraqi security forces, capturing seven brigade-level high value targets and 80 additional targets; capturing more than 80 enemy weapon caches. Ferraro told Iraqi officials present that the past eight months have demonstrated that Iraqi security forces in the Taji area will be successful in the future. Ferraro said the brigade worked with an embedded U.S. provincial reconstruction team and local sheiks to complete civil capacity projects in excess of $22 million. The brigade arrived in Iraq in late January 2009, after mobilizing in mid-September 2008, and accepted responsibility of a roughly 800-square-mile area north of Baghdad from the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. Headquartered in Philadelphia, the 56th SBCT includes units in armories across Pennsylvania. More than 4,000 soldiers serve in the brigade. Brigade soldiers are already returning to the United States, where they will demobilize at Ft. Dix in New Jersey. Men from the division’s Cambridge Springs-based 1st Battalion, 112th Infantry are expected to arrive in New Jersey next week and should return to Crawford County by the end of the month. Sgt. Roles is part of the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. Video footage produced by Sgt. Lisa Heise.