FORT BRAGG, N.C. — The Army's top officer said Friday it will take three to four years to put the Army back in balance after seven years of war.

"Right now, the Army is out of balance. We're stretched and stretched by the fact that we didn't have a big enough Army to do the things the nation is asking us to do since Sept. 11," said Gen. George Casey, the Army's chief of staff. "Once you are off track it takes a long time to put it back together."

Casey met with a handful of reporters at Fort Bragg. The four-star general visited the Army base to attend a retirement ceremony for Gen. Dan K. McNeill. Casey also visited with paratroopers and families at several "town hall" style meetings.

Casey became the 36th Chief of Staff of the Army last year. During his first appearance in front of Congress in September, he said the Army was stretched so thin by the war in Iraq that it cannot adequately respond to another conflict.

Many of the paratroopers Casey met Friday at Fort Bragg are on their second and third deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We've not been able to sustain the rotations and do the things we need to do to take care of the volunteer force and prepare for the future," Casey said Friday.

But the general said a planned increase of 74,000 troops and efforts to keep captains and senior sergeants in the service will pay off. The cumulative effect will be an increase in time the soldiers are spending home between deployments, Casey said.