YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — A quarter of the U.S. soldiers in South Korea have taken advantage of a new Army program that pays them an extra $300 a month to extend their tours on the peninsula, officials said Thursday.

And about 30 percent of new arrivals — given the option to sign up for the program within the first 30 days of their tours — either have signed up or expressed “serious interest” in the Assignment Incentive Pay, or AIP, program.

All told, 7,700 AIP applications have been approved by the Department of the Army, said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, an 8th Army spokesman.

Soldiers already in South Korea were given a 60-day window, beginning in March, to sign up for the program, which pays either $300 a month for a one-year voluntary extension or $400 a month for a two-year extension. Incoming soldiers will continue to have the 30-day window through March.

When the program was announced, officials said their best guess was that 5,000 soldiers would apply for AIP. The actual numbers “far exceeded expectations,” Boylan said.

“This has far, wide-ranging impacts beyond Korea,” he said. “It not only affects about 8,000 soldiers here and improves readiness, training and stability, but it also has prevented about 8,000 families across the Army from having to make ‘touch and go’ stops at home.”

By “touch and go,” Boylan meant soldiers returning from a combat tour in Afghanistan, Iraq or other conflict zones, then immediately getting one-year, unaccompanied tours to South Korea.

The purpose of AIP was to both improve unit cohesion in South Korea by keeping the same soldiers together longer, and reduce the 40 percent of “personnel turbulence” caused in the Army each year by peninsula tours.

According to Army figures as of Monday, roughly 830 officers, 210 warrant officers, 2,100 noncommissioned officers and 4,600 junior enlisted servicemembers signed up for AIP. Around 85 percent of the AIP applications were for a one-year extension.

Only 103 applications of 7,803 were denied for various reasons, including soldiers who already were receiving similar benefits, were too close to their transfer date or were declined because of “the needs of the Army.”

The largest number of AIP applicants came from the 2nd Infantry Division, which has about 14,000 soldiers in South Korea. More than 2,700 2nd ID soldiers applied; for those who are being sent to Iraq later this year, the AIP money will still be effect, Army officials said last month.

Other units with high numbers of applicants included the 19th Theater Support Command (900), 17th Aviation Brigade (500), 18th Medical Command (500) and 8th Personnel Command (250).

Officials here credited the 8th PERSCOM with managing the flood of online applications that needed to be processed and sent from South Korea to the Army personnel command in the States for final approval.

Boylan said the “8th PERSCOM did a phenomenal job of ‘operationalizing’ a new program.”

Air Force officials in South Korea unveiled a similar incentive program earlier this month, offering $300 a month; that’s being offered through December 2005.

The Army AIP is also on a one-year test basis, with officials planning on reviewing the program and deciding whether to renew it next year.

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