Staff Sgt. William Harden enjoys talking to Soldiers. He enjoys talking to Soldiers so much that he's making a career of it.

Harden is the career counselor for 22d Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort), on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

He's a good talker, good at his job. He is friendly, outgoing, engaging. He smiles easily and often.
He's also so good at his job that he was named 20th Support Command (CBRNE) Career Counselor of the Year. He is now competing for U.S. Army Forces Command honors during the worldwide Career Counselor Conference in Orlando, Fla.

"Throughout my career, when I was reenlisting, I was never fully told my options," Harden said, explaining how he came to be a career counselor. Now, a veteran of 15-year's service, Harden helps keep good Soldiers in boots.

"I was made the battalion retention NCO in [2005] as an additional duty," he said. "I did that for about two years and started liking what I was doing -- taking care of Soldiers - and decided this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my Army career."

A Pensacola, Fla., native, Harden reclassified and trained at Fort Jackson, S.C., to learn the skills of career counseling. After graduating with honors earlier this year, he has been a full-fledged career counselor for about nine months.

"There's a shortage of quality and a shortage - period - of career counselors across the Army," he said. "Keeping Soldiers in boots is a good reward."

Harden said he wants to break the stigma that career counselors are just out to make their numbers, to make mission.

"I'm not about that. I'm about taking care of Soldiers. If a Soldier wants to get out, I will try to help them get out, try to help them find a life on the outside, because not everyone is made to be in the Army," he said. "If they don't want to be in, I'm not gonna say, 'Hey! Just do this for me so I can make mission'. If you want to get out, then you should get out."

Not many 22d Chemical Battalion Soldiers are leaving the Army. Harden's numbers are way up, achieving nearly 200 percent of his goal every month.

"A lot of Soldiers I talk to really like doing chemical," he said. "And a lot have never had someone talk to them and show them, 'Okay, you can do this or that, and you can go here or there.'

"I make it my point - for as long as it takes - to talk with a Soldier so they understand every option they have before they make a decision, because it's a life decision. I also mention that they should talk to their Family because it's not just their decision; it's their Family's decision, too."

Does an economic recession help convince Soldiers to stay in'

"That helps a lot," Harden said with a short chuckle. "That's part of the counseling. We have this RMC - regular military compensation - a chart that shows them a figure they would make on the outside and how the Army can match it with options and benefits, like free dental and health care."

Are first termers more apt to stay in than mid-career Soldiers'

"First termers are motivated to stay in," Harden said. "I have the most trouble with the mid-career Soldiers, especially the ones with less than ten years. Once you hit ten years, you feel like you might as well do twenty. But those at six to eight years, they might say, 'I'm done with this....' for a number of reasons."

Harden said frequent deployments are not a problem.

Harden will have four years at APG when he moves to a new duty station next spring.

"I don't know where I'm going yet. The career field is small, and I can kind of say where I want to go," he said. "But I haven't deployed yet, so that's what I'm doing next year. I'll deploy as a career counselor."

Harden said the best part of his job is simply talking to Soldiers.

"It's so much more than just talking about the Army. They talk about life in general and the problems they have. It's almost like being a real counselor. They tell me problems they have at work, problems they have at home. They feel a relief, I think, that they have somebody they can talk to.

"And I'm not going to tell anybody anything, so they feel relaxed talking to me," he said.

Asked how he might improve, Harden said he needs to go to a larger command.

"I need to go to a bigger battalion or brigade so I'll have more of a challenge. Our battalion is pretty small, so I get small numbers," Harden said. "I want to go someplace where I have a little more responsibility than I have now. Not that I don't have responsibility, but I only have three hundred-some Soldiers."

He said he also has a lot of paperwork and many late nights.

"I'm available twenty-four hours a day. I have a Blackberry - and they call me. I tell them to ask me even the smallest question, because that's what I'm here for - to answer those questions.

"When a Soldier comes to me and they have an Article fifteen or have been flagged - I don't hold anything against them. I'm no judge or jury, he said. "If they're marginal, I offer them advice about what they can do to overcome their problems. Like a platoon sergeant, I do counseling, too."

Harden said he's working on an associate's degree in information technology. He also wants to earn a bachelor's in human resources.

"That's what I'm doing now," he said, drawing a correlation between career counseling and his plans for the future.

Harden said he's always talking to Soldiers, and not just because they're in the reenlistment window.

"At lunchtime I'll join a table and say, 'How you doing' How's your Family doing'' And I never mention retention. I think that eases the Soldier, so that when it's time, they know they can talk to me because I'm not just all about my numbers, not just all about mission," he said.

"They know I genuinely care and have concern for them and their Families," Harden said.