Sgt. Major Kenneth O. Preston, the top-ranking enlisted soldier in the Army, takes questions from callers Wednesday afternoon on Eagle 102.7 FM in Seoul.

Sgt. Major Kenneth O. Preston, the top-ranking enlisted soldier in the Army, takes questions from callers Wednesday afternoon on Eagle 102.7 FM in Seoul. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The U.S. Army is increasing its brigade units by one-third, getting ready to introduce new uniforms and, according to the Army’s top enlisted soldier, could extend the Assignment Incentive Pay program into the near future.

“One of the things I’m going to take back [to Washington] is the Assignment Incentive Pay, the AIP program, has been a big success,” Sgt. Maj. Kenneth O. Preston told callers and listeners during an hourlong radio show Wednesday afternoon from Yongsan Garrison.

“One of the things that we want is the support from the senior leaders at the Pentagon to continue that program for the future. Of all the soldiers that I’ve met here in the past three days, that have signed up to take the AIP, they are very happy,” he said.

AIP offers a $300-per-month bonus for soldiers who extend their tours in South Korea by one or two years.

Preston was in the midst of a visit to South Korea this week to talk about transformation, meet with soldiers throughout the peninsula and talk with the new secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey, who took office last week.

During Wednesday’s radio show, Preston took questions about transformation and the moves the Army already has made to realign troops around the world.

“What I tell soldiers is that probably at the first sergeant level and below, transformation is going to be transparent to what they do,” Preston said.

“Between now and 2006, we’re going to grow the Army from 33 brigades to 43 brigade units of actions. Just this year, we’ve added three brigades to the Army inventory, which is really a division’s worth of maneuver forces,” he said.

Already, the Army has added one brigade each to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.; 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.; and the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. Next year, the Army plans to add three more brigades and in 2006, four brigades, he said.

The changes are part of adding more units for deployment, he said. That goes hand-in-hand with both the Army’s improving retention record and its Assignment Incentive Pay.

Preston also took several questions about the Army’s new uniform, which he said should be available in basic training and to troops in South Korea starting in spring 2006.

The Army has been working to improve its camouflage pattern to create a digitized one that works well in the desert, in the forest and in urban areas. “It’s very superior, especially at night,” he said. “It’s even difficult to see while wearing night vision goggles.”

The last time the Army’s battle dress uniform was redesigned was in 1982 and 1983, Preston said after the hourlong radio show. He remembers then that soldiers had doubts about the changes, and even he thought the untucked shirt “looked dumpy,” he said, laughing.

“This thing just don’t look right,” he remembered thinking 20 years ago, so he understands doubts among troops now.

But he said this new design has improvements for soldiers in battle. “It’s a warrior’s uniform,” he told one caller. “It’s designed to be worn under body armor.”

Preston also mentioned his visits earlier this fall with 2nd Infantry Division soldiers who were deployed from South Korea to Iraq this summer. On Wednesday, the 2nd ID remembered the 21 soldiers from that brigade who have been killed in combat.

“Soldiers motivate me,” he said of his visits with troops in the war zone. “Whether it’s talking to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, when they were over there in Iraq … they were very, very positive and very upbeat about the mission they were given.”

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