Top Army leaders said Tuesday they plan to add 74,000 soldiers to the Army by 2010, two years sooner than originally planned, in order to relieve the strain on forces already stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And they will do it largely by persuading more soldiers to stay in the armed forces, as well as getting the help of National Guard recruiters who will work to direct some of their recruits to the active-duty Army.

Army Gen. George Casey, speaking to the Association of the United State Army Tuesday, said Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved the plan to hasten the increase by two years in order to give soldiers more time at home between deployments and improve staffing and educational opportunities.

Casey's comments provided the first public acknowledgment of the two-year acceleration plan. Officials earlier had suggested the timeline would be cut by one year.

Casey also said that "meeting this target will not be easy. It will require a total force effort if we're going to expand more rapidly and maintain the quality so essential to our long term success."

After Casey's speech, Army Secretary Pete Geren told The Associated Press that he expects to gain much of the growth through retention. But he also said some of the additional soldiers will be brought on through a new program that would give bonuses of $2,000 per recruit to any National Guard soldier who brings somebody into the active duty Army.

Army and Guard officials have been working out the details of what they are calling the Army First program, which is aimed at helping the active duty Army meet its recruitment goals in the coming years.

Gates, in a memo to Geren late last month, approved the acceleration plan, as long as there was no reduction in recruiting standards. Gates also asked for detailed quarterly reports from Geren on the Army's progress meeting recruitment and retention goals, the creation and readiness of new combat units, and reductions in the cost of the institutional Army.

Plans are to increase the number of the active duty Army, Army Guard and Army Reserve by 74,000 overall. It would bring the total number of soldiers in the active Army to 547,000.

Originally, the growth was to take place over five years — now it would be done in three.

The increase, Gates said in his memo, will cost $2.63 billion.

Officials have been working to make the Army bigger in order to sustain a long-term commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan without wearing out the troops and alienating their families.