FORT McPHERSON, Ga. - It is not every day that one gets to save a life, but that opportunity is presenting itself to Soldiers, Civilian employees and Family members on Fort McPherson and Fort Gillem with the start of the Army Emergency Relief campaign.

The campaign, which kicked off Tuesday at Army Community Service, is a 68-year-old program designed to provide assistance for Soldiers in need.

Over the course of its life, the program has provided more than $1.2 billion in assistance. Such assistance is available to all active duty Soldiers and their Family members, Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve Soldiers on continuous active duty for more than 30 days and their Family members, surviving spouses, dependents and retirees, said Janel Finley, AER loan officer and finance program manager.

This year, Finley predicts that, due to the state of the economy, the campaign, which is titled "Helping Maintain Army Strong," will be one of the most active drives in AER history. With the recession still in effect, many additional Families are feeling the pain in their financial lives, said Finley.

Howard Butler, deputy commander of U.S. Army Garrison McPherson, was on hand to let "key persons" know of the importance of the program. Key persons are section representatives who are assigned the duty of gathering donations from their office.

Butler, speaking of the need he sees each day, told of how over the past two months, about $80,000 was provided to Soldiers or Families in need. He told specifically of how AER helped a Soldier who lost his wife around Christmas to transport her body back to her home in Indiana for burial and to help relocate his Family.

"We can all use help from time to time," he said.

Individuals can help by donating to the fund. These donations are what allows AER to provide interest-free loans to those in need, Finley said. For severe cases, grants, which do not require payment back, are issued.

Donators can be assured their money is going to good use, Finley added. Out of every dollar collected, 89 cents is used to help Soldiers, with the remaining 11 cents used for AER administrative and fundraising expenses.

This statistic helped the charity earn a four-star ranking - the highest ranking - from Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.

"What we put in rolls back out," said Col. Deborah Grays, USAG commander.

The funds donated can be used for a variety of reasons, including: help with rent, food or utilities; emergency transportation, repair and critical maintenance of an essential personally owned vehicle; medical and/or dental expenses; and personal needs when pay is delayed or stolen.

Those assisted eventually repay the loans, allowing the process to continue; however, it is the original generosity of the community that allowed the program to begin, Butler said.

"AER is here and will continue to be if we keep giving back," he said.

Besides the monetary help provided by the program, AER also provides an intangible peace of mind to those in need, Finley said. Grays said promoting AER is one of her most important jobs as a leader, describing it as a chance to change someone's life.

Contribution is voluntary. Every bit counts, and even small amounts, when contributed by many, can build up a large reserve pool of funds, said Finley. The campaign will run through May 15, although Grays said the program usually gets extended. Still, people should not wait to contact their unit or office key worker to donate, nor should key workers wait to begin educating coworkers on the program.

"It's all about taking care of our own, Soldiers helping Soldiers," Grays said.

For more information visit the AER Web site at

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16