KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Army Emergency Relief is dedicated to "Helping the Army Take Care of its Own." Though this primarily means providing assistance to Soldiers and families during financial emergencies, it also extends to helping Army families cover the cost of education. AER has begun accepting scholarship applications for the 2018-2019 school year, and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz encourages eligible family members to apply.

Michael Hurd, AER specialist for the garrison, explained that AER uses Soldier-donated dollars to provide financial assistance to spouses and children through two academic scholarship opportunities.

The Spouse Education Assistance Program provides need-based scholarships for spouses of Soldiers -- active, retired or deceased. Recipients are eligible to receive scholarships for up to four years of full-time enrollment or eight years of part-time enrollment in an accredited college or university.

The Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program for Dependent Children provides need-based scholarships for children of Soldiers -- active, retired or deceased. Recipients are eligible to receive scholarships for up to four years of full-time enrollment in an accredited college or university.

"College is a huge expense that many families are typically not prepared for. Because of this, college is often either forgone or causes a lot of financial hardship. Soldiers helping Soldiers put their loved ones through school takes a huge burden off of families in need and provides opportunities the children and spouses may not have had before," Hurd said.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, AER awarded 3,193 scholarships totaling $7 million to military spouses and dependent children. Scholarship amounts ranged from $350 to $2,810 for spouses and $670 to $4,290 for children.

Scholarship amounts vary year to year based on the number of applicants, total approved scholarship budget, the applicant's Expected Family Contribution reported on the Student Aid Report from the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the average Cost of Attendance to attend a college or university in the United States as provided by the College Board. The scholarship budget depends on donations, and Hurd described how community members can get involved.

"Donations are the best way to get involved. Anyone can go to the AER website (www.aerhq.org) and donate. AER conducts an annual campaign from March 1 to May 15. Soldiers can contact their unit's AER representative for more information," Hurd said.

Scholarship applications must be submitted no later than April 2 for dependent children. Spouses have a rolling application cycle and may apply and submit documents at any time. For scholarship details, eligibility, guidelines and deadlines, visit www.aerhq.org and click "Apply for Scholarship."