CAMP ZAMA, Japan — The Army has accelerated plans to grow its ranks in an effort to widen the span between downrange deployments, its top civilian leader said Saturday.

Army Secretary Pete Geren said the service wants to add 74,000 soldiers — including 65,000 on active duty — by 2010, about two years ahead of previous projections. The move means soldiers will see more time at home with families, and units will have a larger window to meet changing training needs, he added.

Right now, the Army’s 12-month tours to Iraq and Afghanistan are followed by a year back home "at best," he said.

"The one-to-one ratio cannot be sustained. It puts too much stress on the soldiers and too much stress on families," Geren said. "We recognize the Army is out of balance. We are working to put pieces in place to allow us to increase dwell time."

By the end of next year, it should reach 18 months, he said. And officials want to stretch home-station time to two years by 2011.

"As we’re able to increase dwell times, we’ll be able to increase full-spectrum training … instead of just doing (counterinsurgency) missions," Geren said.

Including the Guard and Reserve units currently tapped, there are about 693,000 soldiers on active duty.

Geren said he’s confident the Army will achieve its growth objectives. The service exceeded retention goals in the last decade and added 175,000 recruits in 2007, he said.

"We have a lot of very patriotic young men and women who stepped up to join the Army … in the longest war that’s ever been fought with an all-volunteer force," Geren said.

He said "rebalancing the force" also requires shifting some troops from low-demand military occupational specialties into more urgently needed jobs. Reliance on contractors for support functions remains essential to sustaining Army operations as well, he added.

About 140,000 contractors are working downrange, with an estimated 10,000 performing security jobs.

Recent security gains in Iraq have led many in Washington to clamor for more troops in Afghanistan. Either way, it likely means no slowdown in the high operations tempo that’s gripped the Army the past seven years.

Even with the proposed force increases, Geren said, he’s not sure if it’ll be enough.

"You can’t predict the demand. Circumstances around the world will shape that," he explained. "(But) our training continues to adapt to the challenges of the war. It never stops. The enemy adapts and we adapt."

On Saturday, Geren met with U.S. Army Japan and I Corps (Forward) leaders and also ate brunch with some spouses of deployed soldiers. He said significant investments have been made in more child-care centers and other support programs due to war stresses.

He called the Army’s mission in the Pacific Rim and its relationship with Japan "vitally important to this region and the entire world."

Geren was expected to visit troops in South Korea on Sunday and Monday.

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