AER conference focuses on Soldiers and families
USAG Baden-Württemberg AER Officer Barbara Baeck listens intently to a portion of training during the United States Army Europe Army Emergency Relief Conference in Schwetzingen, Germany. AER officers and assistants serving in garrisons throughout Europe came together to train and network during the two and a half day conference.

SCHWETZINGEN, Germany - Money for plane tickets home, utility bills, car payments and even an $18,000 dollar cell phone bill - these were just a few of the cases Army Emergency Relief officers and assistants say they've encountered while on the job.

The group of AER professionals gathered to train, network and share their experiences -some heartbreaking and some simply unbelievable - during their annual AER U.S. Army Europe training conference in Schwetzingen July 13-15.

Despite the differences in their backgrounds, locations and experiences, the central focus among the group remained the same - how to find ways to help Soldiers and their families.

Lyndon Barnes, AER officer for U.S. Army Garrison Mannheim, admits sometimes that can be a challenge for him and his peers. "I think the hardest challenge I have is looking at the Soldier now compared to when I was in (the Army) and coming up through the ranks," Barnes said. "They're facing different types of problems, and each case is different. I have to weigh the factors involved in each one and come up with the best possible solution to help them."

Barnes retired in 2008 after 23 years in the Army, and he's been an AER officer for three months. "When you come to the training, it not only gives you a better aspect of the job but also how to deal with your job," he said. "It also gave me a better understanding of the guidelines and a better networking system because we all don't know everything," Barnes said.

While this is Barnes' first conference, USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg AER Officer Barbara Baeck has attended several during her 10 years in the field. "You need a refresher every year, even though we have a training manual, it's good because some of the cases they see in the States ... we don't see over here or vice-versa so it's good to have that exposure," Baeck said.

A team of program managers from the AER Headquarters in Alexandria, Va., led the group through a variety of training modules on everything from risk management and accounting procedures, to the future updates planned for their computer systems.

A large portion of the training also focused on scenario-based case work and problem-solving.

"We teach a lot about how to handle different cases and different situations they may come across during their time in the job, and it's also a great opportunity for them to learn from each other about different things they have experienced and how they handled it," said Eldon Mullis, deputy director for administration and corporate secretary for Army Emergency Relief.

The visiting team of AER program managers are all retired military members who say they still draw on their days in uniform to help them now.

"We love our job because it still gives us an opportunity to interface with Soldiers and more importantly to continue to help Soldiers," said Dennis Scott, assistant deputy director for administration for Headquarters, Army Emergency Relief. "One of the things that we realized over the years in AER is that we need to create a greater awareness of AER throughout the Army, and one avenue we take to achieve that goal is through our AER officers," he said. "We use the training as an opportunity to make sure they are up to date on current policies and procedures, and they can take and apply that knowledge to their Soldiers and local installations."

All admit their knowledge of the AER program is much greater now that they are out of uniform.

"When I was a Soldier, I didn't really know about AER," said Donald Vincent, AER loan management supervisor. "When I took this job 11 years ago and I sat down and read all the policies and procedures, I was amazed. I didn't know AER could do all these things." "That's why we also want to stress educating our leadership from the top, because whatever comes from the top Soldiers are going to do," he added.

Once the training was complete the group had an opportunity to provide feedback to the team and participate in a final question-and-answer session before receiving their certificates.

Twenty-one Army Emergency Relief program officers and assistants from U.S. Army garrisons across Europe attended the two and a half day conference.

In 2009 AER provided $3.2 million in assistance to USAREUR Soldiers, families and retirees. For more information on the AER program, visit www.aerhq.org.

Page last updated Wed July 21st, 2010 at 08:12