FORT HOOD, Texas -- Spc. Joseph Morris was fresh out of basic training in September 2008 and was on orders to Fort Hood for his first duty assignment. But there was a problem. He wasn't getting paid.

"I'd gotten my report date, but I hadn't been getting paid for about three weeks, and I wasn't sure what to do," Morris said.

At home on leave before he traveled to Fort Hood, Morris thought back to topics that had been covered in basic training, including what to do when emergency financial situations arise. Because his home wasn't near a military installation, he contacted the closest Red Cross office, which in turn contacted an Army Emergency Relief office and helped secure a loan for him.

"I called on a Monday afternoon, and the very next day it was approved," Morris said. "I got a loan for about $750. It got me to Fort Hood for my report date so I wouldn't be AWOL (Absent Without Leave) as soon as I first started."

He said he not only got the money he needed, but the process was easy and efficient.

"The employees there were really nice. They were really there to help me," he said. "They didn't look at me like I was irresponsible. It made the whole process a lot more enjoyable."

Morris, who is stationed with the 74th Engineer Company, 62nd Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade, used the money to get to Fort Hood and get situated. With the money he had left over, he purchased items he needed for his uniform. Shortly after he arrived, he received a bonus and his pay situation was sorted out, enabling him to pay the loan back quickly.

Still, he said, the AER loan was available when he needed it most.

"It was a huge relief to know it was available," he added.

Tyrone Willis, a personal financial readiness specialist with Fort Hood Army Community Service, said problems with pay are just one reason Soldiers use AER loans.

"We can offer assistance with legitimate bills," Willis said. "The car payment, the utilities, the telephone bill, if they need groceries or if they need the rent payment."

Willis said Soldiers will also use AER loans if there is a death in their immediate family. The loans can be used to purchase airline tickets or pay for a hotel. AER loans can also be used for medical expenses.

That came in handy for another Soldier, a specialist assigned to III Corps, who received a loan at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

"I got my loan in 2007," he said. "I blew the engine of my car, and my dad paid to replace my engine."

The Soldier was going to pay his father back, but the need for the money became urgent when his father was diagnosed with cancer and needed to begin medical treatments.

By taking out an AER loan, the Soldier was able to repay his father and then paid off the interest-free loan with allotments from his pay.

"When I got it, I would say it helped 100 percent," he added.

Willis said there are many different ways the AER offices across the United States can help Soldiers and their family members.

"We do offer interest-free loans," he said. "They may also get a grant or we may do half-grant, half-loan."

In addition, Willis said, the AER office has the Commander's Referral Program. Commanders or first sergeants can refer a Soldier to the AER office, where they are entitled to an interest-free loan of $1,000 or less. Willis said the money is given upfront and Soldiers can pay the loan back to AER over a period of 12 months.

No matter what assistance is offered, the goal is the same, to help Soldiers through a valid financial emergency and allow them to pay back the loan through allotments from their pay. In addition, AER offices provide educational classes designed to help Soldiers budget, get out of debt, save money and tackle a wide range of financial concerns.

Since 1942, AER has been helping support Soldiers and their families. The money provided through AER loans is donated by Soldiers, civilians, widows and widowers, retirees and family members. While active-duty and retired Soldiers are the only groups actively solicited during the fund-raising campaign, anyone can donate to the program at any time.

To highlight the AER donation campaign, a kickoff luncheon was held March 1, at Fort Hood. The fund-raising campaign takes place through May 15.

At the luncheon, Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commanding general, spoke about the mission of AER as he encouraged members of the Fort Hood community to donate to the program.

"Army Emergency Relief is all about Soldiers taking care of Soldiers," Grimsley said. "Soldiers giving back to Soldiers."

He added that the money goes back to those struggling with a financial situation that is sometimes out of their control.

"For a Soldier here at Fort Hood who doesn't have anything and arrives with nothing, it might help with a deposit for rent or utilities or even to put food in the pantry in order to be able to feed his family and therefore continue the service as a volunteer in our Army," Grimsley said.

As one of the largest posts in the Army, the Fort Hood AER office helps thousands of Soldiers each year. Willis said in 2010, more than 7,500 Soldiers were given some sort of financial assistance through the AER program.

"We gave out more than 7.9 million dollars, only on Fort Hood," he added. "The money we give out is generated by donations and also by the repayment of the loans."

One Soldier who always makes sure he gives back to the program that helped him is Morris.

"I know what it was like to have that need," he said. "There are a lot of people who need it for different reasons." He said he encourages Soldiers he knows to donate to the program as well, even if they only donate a few dollars every month.

"I tell them 'You never know, you might need to use it someday, too,'" Morris added.

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