WASHINGTON– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is considering proposals to temporarily expand the Army to relieve stress on the force, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Gates has discussed the possibility of a temporary expansion with Army Secretary Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr., and others, Geoff Morrell said at a Pentagon news briefing yesterday after being asked by reporters about the proposal. 

Army leaders, as well as U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are “advocating to increase the size of the Army to get them through what is still a stressful period as we draw down in Iraq and continue to plus-up in Afghanistan,” he said. 

Asked how Gates feels about the idea, Morrell said, “I think he obviously has a great deal of concern about the stress that the Army has been under for a number of years now. And he understands that his prescription that they reduce their dependence upon stop-loss to keep units intact when they deploy has created additional stress on the force. 

“He obviously appreciates the stress that the force is under and is listening intently to the arguments that are being made by General Casey and others,” he added. 

Gates earlier this year announced a phase-out of the Army’s “stop-loss” policy, which keeps some soldiers in uniform beyond the terms of their enlistment contracts. 

Morrell stressed that Gates has made no decisions about increasing Army troop strength. “He is right now still in the consultation process,” he said. “But he is clearly considering it.” 

Casey has argued for the expansion as a “temporary fix to a near-term problem” of about two more years of considerable stress on the force due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Morrell said. 

Even temporary, a plus-up “will be very expensive,” he said. “Our personnel costs, in total I think, in the 2010 budget are north of $160 billion. Our health-care costs alone are $42 billion. Every person you add has enormous costs — legacy costs, especially. And that is clearly part of the consideration here.” 

Gates spoke out this week against efforts in Congress to fund more F-22 aircraft than the department has requested, and Morrell reiterated those concerns yesterday. 

“It looks as though the Army believes it needs additional soldiers to do the job that we have asked them to do,” he told reporters. “So, buying more F-22s would very much inhibit our ability to even temporarily grow the force.” 

Although any increase is meant to be temporary, Morrell said, “It is always hard to do things on a temporary basis in this building. They have a way of becoming permanent.” 

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