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Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston (U.S. Army photo)

SEOUL — The Army’s black beret is not being phased out as the new combat uniforms hit the streets, according to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

Preston, who joined U.S. Forces Korea Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler on a monthly call-in radio show on American Forces Network-Korea, dispelled the beret rumor while taking questions Wednesday. Preston is on the peninsula as part of a command visit.

He said the beret is “garrison headgear” and local commanders are empowered to decide whether it or the patrol cap will be part of the uniform of the day.

He said the new uniforms would be available here early in January.

“We’re about to put 500,000 sets of the Army Combat Uniform into clothing sales here in January,” he said. “So all the soldiers out there have an opportunity now to purchase the uniform.”

He said soldiers he visited in Area I on Tuesday were eager to get into the new uniforms.

“All the feedback has been very positive” from soldiers who’ve already been issued the uniforms, he said. “With the uniform being wrinkle-free, it saves soldiers a lot of money as far as … cleaners and having it starched and laundered.”

Wheeler, who said he thinks soldiers have become “a big fan” of the new uniforms, warned soldiers who have been ordering them via the Internet to use caution, however.

“Once again, be careful that you get the mil-specs (military specification) version and not something that’s offered at the lowest price,” he said.

Preston also talked about the Army’s ongoing transformation.

In 2004, Preston said, the Army added three brigade combat teams to the original 33 worldwide.

“Our goal, of course, is by the end of 2006 to have grown the Army from 33 to 43 brigade combat teams,” he said.

Another initiative, he said, is to increase the size of the active-duty Army by 30,000 troops.

“Our goal right now, through military-to-civilian conversion, recruiting and retention — we want to try to get 512,400 as quick as we can,” he said. “But our goal, of course, is to get there by 2009. Right now we’re probably at about 495,000.”

He said it’s a matter of making the best use of their assets, including the military-to-civilian conversion program.

Taking soldiers who serve in nondeployable garrison organizations and replacing them with civilians allows the Army to “regain and recoup those soldiers back into deployable units,” he said.

“And that way we can take the soldiers, which are our most precious asset … and be able to grow more deployable units,” he said. “And this really takes the pressure off a lot of those units out there right now that are doing back-to-back deployments.”

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