Fort Rucker kicks off AER fundraising campaign
March 7, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 7, 2013) -- The Army Emergency Relief program held its annual kickoff event March 5 at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum to begin raising funds that help Soldiers take care of Soldiers.
Col. Stuart J. McRae, Fort Rucker garrison commander and this year's Army Emergency Relief, or AER, campaign chairman, along with guest speaker Col. Michael L. Shenk and garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Buford E. Noland signed the first allotments at the ceremony.
"Over the last year across the entire Army there were more than 59,000 cases AER helped. It totals to $85 million in assistance. A little closer to home, here at Fort Rucker, almost $260,000 was given to [locals.] In addition to that, $16,650 in scholarships were given out," said McRae.
The program allows Soldiers to take care of their own and is an invaluable tool, according to Maj. Anthony Whittaker, Fort Rucker AER campaign coordinator.
"Money is given out several ways," he said. "There are scholarships and grants, which do not ever have to be repaid, and there are interest-free loans."
AER has gone through many changes over the years, according to the garrison commander, morphing to the needs of Soldiers, retirees and their Families, but always remaining vibrant and responsive to their needs.
The goal for this year's campaign is $125,000.
"AER is a commander's program and every commander can tell you story after story about the successes of AER. We shouldn't think of $125,000 as our goal, we should think of that as our starting goal because this program really gives back," he said.
"That may sound like a lot, but we have nearly 6,000 active duty Soldiers on Fort Rucker and in the area we have around 60,000 retirees. If you add in their Family members that number jumps to nearly 200,000," said McRae, adding that if 2,100 of those 200,000 people donated $5 a month that the goal would be reached.
AER is a safety net for people and it boosts morale, according to McRae, because it is there when no one else is able to lend a helping hand, and Shenk agreed.
"It is no secret that our Soldiers, young and old, enlisted and officer, face unforeseen hardships and emergencies that significantly stress their day-to-day budgets. But, by way of grants and interest-free loans, AER responds to both individual applicants and commanders [for the purpose of] reducing such financial emergencies, reducing personal stress and increasing peace of mind for those who take advantage of what AER has available," said Shenk.
Soldiers tend to be strong, independent people and some may feel embarrassed to ask for financial help, but McRae said that there is no shame in seeking it.
"There is no embarrassment when it comes to asking for help. That is part of being a strong person, knowing what your limits are and knowing when it's time to ask for help," he said.
To help bring in the funds in a fun and enjoyable way, AER has two major fundraisers on post, the Jail-a-thon and the Aviation Center Federal Credit Union Golf Tournament.
The Jail-a-thon will be held April 18 and is an event during which people on the installation can pay to have their co-workers, bosses and even command staff "arrested."
A suggested donation amount is determined on the rank or civilian pay grade of the arrested individual, and for spouses it is determined by their husband or wife's rank, according to Mimi Brooks, Fort Rucker AER officer.
The arrestees will be escorted to a makeshift jailhouse in the post exchange's parking lot where they will stand before a judge and be sentenced for their "crimes," said Whittaker.
After being arrested, the person can either choose to be put into the jailhouse for the allotted time or they can match the funds that were collected to put them in jail.
"Some people try to hide, but everyone really enjoys it," added Whittaker. "All forms of payment must be in cash or check, but allotments can be made for active-duty Soldiers."
The Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union annual golf tournament will be held May 10.
"The tournament is hosted by Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union, but we are there to represent AER," said Brooks. "There will be prizes given away to the winners and anybody can register to play."
The game will be a four-man scramble and the cost to sign up is $60 per person.
During the campaign season, AER has other fundraisers among the organizations that operate on post to help support the cause and to help promote awareness for the various AER programs.
"People have basketball tournaments, a pie in the face and a 5K run, just anything to spark interest and get Soldiers involved, because the ultimate goal is to get the word out on what AER is, what it does and how it helps Soldiers and their Families," said Whittaker.