CAMP COINER, South Korea — If there’s any doubt about the popularity of U.S. Forces Korea’s Assignment Incentive Pay program, just ask the man who oversees the applications each day.

“I took it,” Chief Warrant Officer Marc Garduno said of the incentive pay. Garduno, who works at 8th Army Personnel Command, is among the 8,945 people who have agreed to serve one to two years longer in South Korea in exchange for extra pay.

The program, which began almost a year ago, offers servicemembers the choice of staying longer in South Korea in return for an extra $300 to $400 a month. In its first year, the program saved the Army $22 million, according to Garduno. The cost of the extra pay – $35 million — was dwarfed by the estimated moving costs of $57 million that would have been needed to rotate enough troops in and out of South Korea to maintain troop strength at about 32,500 servicemembers.

Beginning this month, the program changed to allow for more time — in some cases eight months longer — for soldiers to consider whether to extend an assignment here, Garduno said Friday. He said the application opportunity also was extended to the end of 2006.

Here’s how AIP works now: Each new soldier on the peninsula has until 90 days from the end of his or her tour to decide whether to sign up for the program. If the soldier signs up for one extra year, the bonus is $300 a month. If the extension is for two years, it’s $400 a month, Garduno said.

The bonuses start coming once the application is approved. That means a one-year extension could mean almost two years of bonuses, he said.

“You have soldiers saying, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money,’” he said.

That money is taxable, but soldiers can put it in deferred-tax savings plans, he said.

Garduno said he didn’t notice any dip in interest in the program after a brigade from the 2nd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq late last summer. Of the 3,600 Strike Force soldiers who were ordered to Iraq, about 500 to 600 had extended their stays, Garduno said Friday.

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