PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Army Emergency Relief Officer Cliff Thornburg remembers a particular instance when a married couple visited his office at Ord Military Community's General Stilwell Community Center for advice on balancing their household budget.

Both husband and wife were military service members and, despite their two-paycheck marriage, they were continually broke every month well in advance of payday.

Thornburg invited them to make themselves comfortable in chairs that face his desk while he logged on to a computer program. He asked the couple what they paid each month for rent, utilities and groceries. He asked about credit card payments as well as all their other expenses. Thornburg used the program to tote up these amounts and then subtract the sum from the amount of the couple's combined take-home pay. What was left was disposable monthly income. Thornburg showed the couple this figure and advised them to accept it as the limit on their monthly spending.

"Math doesn't lie," the husband was heard to say as he looked over the numbers.

"I like to remind people of that," Thornburg mused. "'Math does not lie.'"

Thornburg did for the visiting couple what he does for many others in similar predicaments. He has a second AER job title which is Financial Readiness Program Manager.

"Helping Soldiers pay their bills is something AER has been doing for a long time," he said. "Teaching Soldiers how to manage money is something else entirely. It's a goal AER has been pursuing in recent years. We think it of it as a proactive service instead of just reactive."

Thornburg's computer program keeps a tally of the number of times he's used it.

"Since 2004 I've made 1,088 budgets for service members in pay grades from E-1 to 0-4," he said.

AER at the Presidio is part of Army Community Service within the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Thornburg, a native of Yuma, Ariz., has been the Presidio's AER officer for six years. Before that he was with the Directorate of Emergency Services for the Monterey County Chapter of the American Red Cross for eight years. And before that he had a 21-year career in the U.S. Army, serving at Fort Ord, Calif.; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Korea.

"The AER mission is to help Soldiers," Thornburg said. "Our funding comes entirely from Soldiers. But here at the Presidio, we (also) help members of all the other military services. We're authorized to do this through agreements we've entered into with the Air Force Aid Society, the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society and the Coast Guard Mutual Aid Society. I see just as many airmen, Marines and sailors as I do Soldiers."

Money to provide AER services comes from an AER fundraising campaign held every year from March 1 through May 15, Thornburg said. Active-duty Soldiers and Army retirees pledge a single donation or arrange for payroll deductions.

"The 2010 campaign raised about $80,000 from Army retirees and about $14,000 from active-duty Soldiers," Thornburg said. He said funding has held fairly steadily at that level in recent years, affected only slightly by the bad national economy.

Recession-proof funding' If so, Thornburg theorizes, it's probably because over the years AER has bailed out so many Soldiers who needed an emergency loan when they were short of cash.

"The retirees remember the help they got from AER," Thornburg said. "Word of mouth is that AER helps Soldiers, and that's the best advertising there is."

Thornburg said about 90 percent of the help AER provides is in the form of loans and about 10 percent is in the form of grants. AER can help a Soldier with just about any emergency that can be solved with quick cash.

That includes help with paying rent and household bills as well as paying for emergency travel, automobile repairs, funeral expenses, survival needs following natural disasters and a long list of other emergencies.

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