JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Soldiers deployed overseas countdown to the day they can return home to their families and friends.
With the troubled economy and uncertainty of civilian jobs, Soldiers should take this time to make a plan, said Sgt. 1st Class Lloyd Bowers, a forward deployed career counselor with the National Guard Bureau out of Arlington, Va.

"I would encourage all the Soldiers out here ... while you're out here and have some downtime, make it constructive," said Bowers, an Elkhart, Ind., native.
Bowers said his job allows him to travel the country and assist Guardsmen who are looking at continuing their education or extending their military service.
"We basically try to put our finger on the pulse of the units," he said.
Army career counselors can help Soldiers get the education they need for promotions and find bonuses for Soldiers interested in reenlisting, said Master Sgt. Charolette Harvey, the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) career counselor and a Clarksville, Tenn., native.
Harvey said her job is to assist any active Army Soldiers with their retention needs by helping them get what they want in reenlistment contracts, such as tax-free bonuses, permanent change of station wishes, and education benefits, including the new Post 9/11 Montgomery G.I. Bill.

"My mission is important because I'm helping Soldiers, and I'm helping meet the Army end strength," said Harvey.
Bowers said benefits such as the new G.I. Bill have made his job a bit easier.
"That really benefits a lot of younger Soldiers who are looking for that bachelor's (degree)," said Bowers.
He said the education benefits also help older service members who may already have a college degree by allowing them to pass it on to their spouse or children.
Harvey said one of the biggest concerns with Soldiers looking to reenlist is the possibility that bonuses could decrease or disappear because enlistment numbers are up.
"If they hear something, they come running," she said.

Bowers said because bonuses are constantly changing and unit retention representatives may not always have the latest information, he travels the country to provide assistance to the Soldiers and their noncommissioned officers.
"Everyone likes to get a little bonus," said Bowers.
Though their main mission is to retain Soldiers, Harvey said Army career counselors can also assist Soldiers with planning their education and careers after they leave the Army, and that they want to help Soldiers in general.
"When I see Soldiers happy, I'm happy," said Harvey.