WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 7, 2010) -- Despite budget cuts, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said he expects the service to no longer be out of balance by the end of this fiscal year.

Casey spoke at the Association of the U.S. Army's Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast Jan. 6, and said the Army will soon reach the balancing goals it set in 2004.

"We will have finished rebalancing, moving Soldiers out of Cold War skills to skills more relevant and necessary today to the tune of 150 to 160,000 Soldiers," he said. "Taken together, it's a fundamentally different Army than it was on September 11, 2001. We had a good Army then, but we have a great combat-seasoned Army that is organized in a way that makes it much more versatile and relevant today.

"As I go around, I see we're starting to breathe again, that people are getting instead of 12 or 13 months at home between deployments, they're getting 18-24 months," Casey said. "And that's a good thing, believe me. We needed that."

"We expect by the beginning of fiscal year 12 that units deploying will deploy with an expectation of one year out to two years back for the active Army and one year out to four back for the Reserve Component," he said.

Casey said the Army was close to finishing off bringing in the additional 22,000 Soldiers who had been authorized in 2007 by the Bush administration, and that the drawdown in Iraq has played a large role in the increase in dwell time.

"A couple of words about the environment, and I think this is critical. This war's not over. We're involved in a long-term ideological struggle against the global extremist network that has attacked us on our soil. They're not going to quit. They're not going to give up," he said.

"So as we look out there at that environment, I see that our greatest challenge over the next three to five years is the need to maintain our combat edge while we reconstitute this force and continue to build resilience for the long haul," he continued.

To maintain the combat edge, Casey said the Army was working to bring back strategic flexibility and held a first-ever full-spectrum operations rotation exercise against a hybrid threat down at the Joint Readiness Training Center in October.

"Two things that struck me the most as I sat on a hill with a company, the company commander, the first sergeant, platoon sergeants and platoon leaders preparing their defense. They'd been up for 36 hours and these guys are sitting there and working through things. They're talking about what they did right and what they did wrong. Wow, that level of intensity is something we can all be proud of," he said.

"And, the second thing I saw which I actually expected, was that when these companies and platoons close with the enemy, they are absolutely lethal," Casey said. "We know how to fight at that level and that is a huge strength."

Casey said keeping and maintaining a combat edge requires continuous adaptation due to the uncertainty and complexity of the environment -- weapons of mass destruction, technology, trends, safe havens -- but he feels confident in how far the Army has come.

"If you'd asked me in 2007 if we'd have been able to maintain the pace and the tempo that we do maintain, I'd have said, 'you're nuts,'" he admitted. "We're still a volunteer force, so it's a great tribute to the men and women in our armed forces that we're able to do that."

He praised the Reserve Components, saying he had never seen relationships between the components better than today, adding that half of Army Reserve and National Guard Soldiers are combat veterans, "and that makes us a fundamentally different Army."

Addressing Soldier and family issues, Casey said the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program, which started in October of 2009, continues to grow and is a major part of the equation in building resilience for the long haul.

"We've been at war today for almost a decade and the cumulative effects of war are still with us, and they're going to be for a while, so we have to deal with those effects," he said. Casey added that active-duty suicide rates for 2010 were down for the first time since 2004, crediting the efforts of Army suicide-prevention programs.

Casey said that as he traveled the world on a whirlwind holiday trip that took him from Asia, the Middle East to Europe and Alaska, he talked with families and assured them that he was committed to protecting family programs and assured they would not go by the wayside as budgets come down.

Casey also recognized Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston as the longest-serving sergeant major of the Army, with more than seven years as the Army's top enlisted leader. That recognition garnered a standing ovation for Preston, who was in attendance. Preston is slated to retire in March with 36 years of service.

"When you think about the list of things I've talked about and then throw in BRAC (base realignment and closure) and the 398,000 Soldiers, families and civilians moving all around, all to be done by September 15th," he said. "No other organization in the world could have done all that at the same time, especially while we're deploying 100 to 200,000 Soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan."