FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. -- The Tuesday morning Atlanta Journal-Constitution's front-page headline, in bold letters and a font size usually reserved for a declaration of war, announced, "Bailout plan fails; Dow plummets 777." But after the markets opened, an online Associated Press (AP) article headline read, "Stocks jump after steep sell-off; key rate rises."

The lead for the AP story read, "Wall Street snapped back Tuesday after its biggest sell-off in years amid growing expectations that lawmakers will salvage a $700 billion rescue plan for the financial sector. But the seized-up credit markets where businesses turn to raise money showed no sign of relief."

Such turbulent economic times can strike us with fear and uncertainty, but calm and riding out the storm are probably the best courses of action to choose. Many are worried about their retirement funds, but we have a few advantages in the Army. Both military retirement and funds under the Civil Service Retirement System are what is called a defined benefit. As long as our government is up and running, these retirement funds are safe and I'm confident the United States of America isn't going anywhere.

Civilians under FERS (Federal Employees Retirement System) have a more limited, defined benefit program, with the opportunity for an agency match of up to 5 percent for their personal contributions to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP). The TSP is comprised of government securities and index funds. The index funds involve some risk, but are widely diversified to minimize the threats of loss.

According to Accredited Financial Counselor Jolane Williams at Army Community Service (ACS), many people tend to panic during financial times like we are witnessing now and that is the worst thing you can do. Most of you have a financial plan and the key is to stick to your plan, even if those around you are going a little crazy.

If you don't have a plan, get one. ACS staff can help you devise a plan for free. Next week, ACS will end a series of financial planning lunch seminars for this year. A new series will begin again in January - keep checking the Sentinel for specific classes and dates. The series includes information on financial plans and investment options, retirement plans (types and the IRS), bonds, mutual funds, insurance and annuities and wills, estates and trusts.

Classes are open to Soldiers, retirees, Family members and Civilians. Classes are held in Bldg. 62 at Fort McPherson. Classes are free and participants are welcome to bring their lunch.

The Army recently launched the Ready Army campaign to encourage Soldiers and their Families to prepare and be ready at home for natural and manmade disasters, disease and other emergencies. The financial crisis facing our nation at present probably qualifies as an emergency. You should have a plan.

Williams is available at 464-2498 or 464-4070 for individual financial counseling appointments. I encourage you to take advantage of her free expertise and to enroll in the next series of lunch seminars. The seminars are taught by Doris Cash (no pun intended), who is also available for individual counseling on a more limited basis.

Times are tough. It's been a tumultuous year and you can almost feel the financial world shifting under your feet. But there is no reason to stumble, fall or have the rug pulled out from under you. Have, update or make a plan. Stick to the plan. Ride it out. Our great nation will return to the financial stability and prosperity that we maybe had begun to take for granted. We all have so much to be thankful for - don't let some indigestion (maybe more of a case of food poisoning or stomach flu) on Wall Street mess with your serenity.