“When you reach into your back pocket, you’re helping your battle buddies to your left and right,” retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, director of Army Emergency Relief Headquarters, said.
The AER Campaign ended its 2020 season with below-average totals Army-wide, receiving roughly one-quarter of the average donations.
“I’m not gonna lie,” Mason said, “2020 is gonna be a tough year for the campaign – all understandable.”
The AER Campaign ran from March 1 to May 15 and then extended to July due to COVID-19. As Soldiers began to work from home or quarantine, it limited how the Financial Readiness Branch was able to promote the 2020 campaign season.
Mason explained that AER runs on donations from Soldiers, retirees and others who wish to donate. They do not receive federal funds, they do not receive state funds, it’s all donations, which is why he worries about the 2020 totals.
“What concerns me is the percent of the active duty who donate,” he explained, saying that this year’s active duty donations dropped to 1.3% of the active Army force. Fort Hood received $31,377 donations from active duty Soldiers.
Funds received during the AER Campaign help Army Soldiers and families who are struggling to make ends meet for a variety of reasons and help relieve the stress of emergency situations through grants, zero interest loans or a combination of the two. As the Army’s very own non-profit organization, AER was created at the height of World War II by Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Marshall, with a goal of relieving undue financial hardships on military families. Since its inception in 1942, AER has helped nearly four million Soldiers with $2 billion in zero-interest loans, grants and scholarships.
AER is now located in more than 70 locations worldwide, embedded within Army Community Service. Mason said they provide around $70 million in assistance annually. Approximately $10 million is distributed through grants and $10 million is distributed through scholarships. The remaining funds provide zero-interest loans. Retired Sgt. Maj. Charles Durr, chief of assistance at AER HQ, said AER has also expanded to provide disaster relief assistance.
To help make up for the 2020 campaign season, AER has partnered with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. While shopping at the exchange, customers are given the option of donating to AER or the Air Force Aid Society, if they wish. Mason said they began the AAFES partnership in July and have already seen generous donations.
“That has already generated $250,000 in donations to the Army and an equal amount to the Air Force,” he said.
Quoting the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime,” Mason said the Financial Readiness Branch provides both parts of the famous proverb by providing financial assistance, but also financial planning.
Soldiers from every rank – private to general – can go to AER for assistance. Instead of seeking assistance with outside agencies with high interest rates, putting Soldiers even further in debt, they are encouraged to seek out AER.
Soldiers can request financial assistance through AER in the form of a loan, a grant or a combination of the two. At the moment, everything is done remotely. Those wishing to request AER assistance may contact the AER office at 254-288-7292, 254-553-3102, 254-287-8982 or 254-287-6483. They may also email the Financial Readiness Office at usarmy.hood.imcom-fmwrc.list.ACS-FRB@mail.mil. After being emailed a secure link, Soldiers upload the required documents to the website, which is forwarded to AER HQ for processing.
Mason said the original mission of AER was to “help relieve financial distress on the force.” While the original focus was on active duty and their families, over the years they have expanded to include retirees, medically retired, survivors and Army Reserve and National Guard on active orders.
AER provides assistance for more than 30 different types of category needs, but Soldiers shouldn’t worry too much about the categories.
“Even if it’s not a category of assistance, come in,” Durr said. “Just because it’s not listed, doesn’t mean we cannot provide assistance.”
AER donations can be made online at www.aerhq.org. Donators are asked to include the name of the unit and/or installation.