WASHINGTON- The Army’s chief of staff said Wednesday that the Year of the NCO actually consolidates two decades worth of thanks to noncommissioned officers.

Gen. George W. Casey Jr. began his breakfast speech to members of the Association of the United States Army by reiterating that 2009 was the Year of the NCO, something that hadn’t been recognized since 1989. Speaking at AUSA’s Institute for Land Warfare breakfast in Arlington, Va., he said NCOs have been the glue that keeps the Army together, particularly since Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

He said the Army set out to show its appreciation this year to NCOs on three tracks – to recognize them for what they provide the Army and country; to inform the country about what a national asset it has, and to enhance what the Army can do for NCOs.

“When you go around the world and talk to different armies, they say they want to be like us, like our sergeants. I watched the Iraqi soldiers who were just mesmerized by what our sergeants are doing,” Casey said. “We want to enhance what we are doing for the NCOs, so we have initiatives that we’ll bring on line this year that will enhance how we develop our noncommissioned officers and enable them to gain even more skills.”

After a round of applause for the NCOs at the breakfast, Casey told the 400-strong audience the Army still has two tough years ahead, saying that he sees deployments and “committed strength going up slightly and staying up maybe until about the middle of (2010) when we start seeing a net reduction in deployed forces.”

“That’s going to put continued pressure on the force,” he said, “so we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Casey said the Army has been “out of balance” since the summer of 2007 because the Army is deploying at an unsustainable rate. He explained that it is “unsustainable from the perspective of sustaining our Soldiers and families and developing the flexibility to do other things.” He added that while the Army has made progress over the last year and a half, there are still two tough years ahead for the service.

The Army is on track with recruiting and retention and expects to meet both goals by year end. Last year, he said, 290,000 men and women enlisted or re-enlisted in the Army, Guard and Reserve. “That’s a staggering number,” he said.

Casey also said the Army needs to increase the dwell time Soldiers have.

“As I’ve looked at this over the last 20 months or so … it’s become clearer and clearer to me that increasing the time Soldiers spend at home is the most important element to getting ourselves back in balance,” he said. “Soldiers will need increasingly more time at home because of the cumulative effects of repeated deployments to get themselves back in balance.”

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