PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - The Annual Army Emergency Relief campaign is officially underway for the Presidio of Monterey and the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. This year's theme is "Army Emergency Relief -- A Soldiers First Choice."

The purpose of the campaign is to create a greater awareness of the benefits selecting AER to resolve short term financial difficulties as well as to provide the opportunity for Soldiers to help their fellow Soldiers, according to the AER website.

AER at the Presidio is part of Army Community Service. Cliff Thornburg has been the Presidio's AER officer for 10 years.

"Our funding comes entirely from Soldiers," Thornburg said. And, although the AER mission is to help Soldiers, "here at the Presidio we help members of all the … military services." Thornburg explained that he sees as many airmen, Marines and sailors as Soldiers.

He said that AER is 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."

"The bulk of financial assistance is traditionally for rent, mortgages, housing, personally-owned-vehicle repair, or travel under emergency-leave conditions," said Thornburg.

The AER is not about giving money away, but rather meeting the emergency needs of service members and their families, explained Thornburg. It accomplishes this mission by providing interest-free loans and grants as appropriate.

Assistance is provided as loans when a service member has the ability to repay, or it is provided as grants when repayment would cause a future hardship, he said.

According to the AER website, unlike most charitable non-profit organizations, AER clientele -- Soldiers -- have an income and the ability to repay their no-interest loans, which is in turn made available to other Soldiers.

And they don't want a handout, the website says, they are simply in need of funds for emergencies.

Based on reciprocal agreements, Soldiers and families not near an AER office can also seek assistance from the Air Force Aid Society, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, or seek assistance from the local chapter of the American Red Cross.

Last year, several types of problems that were in the past only supported by AER through an "exception to policy," were approved for regular assistance, according to Andrew H. Cohen, deputy director for finance and treasurer of Army Emergency Relief.

The approved categories of assistance include such items as non-receipt of pay, lost wallet, medical/dental, funeral (not service member), emergency essential travel, rent, food, utilities, vehicle repairs/gas/insurance and other commanders referral.

"Since 9/11, almost $800 million has been distributed to Soldiers and their families in the form of interest free loans, grants and scholarships to children and spouses of active-duty and retired Soldiers," said AER?'s director retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert F. Foley. "In the last four years nine new categories of assistance have been added to include dependent dental care, replacement vehicles, HVAC and appliance repair, rental vehicles, relocation travel, cranial helmets and infant car seats."

Under the streamlined Command Referral Program, company commanders and first sergeants have the authority to approve loans for their Soldiers up to $1,500 interest-free.

Additionally, Army Emergency Relief announced that effective Jan. 1 all officers, warrant officer and noncommissioned officers are authorized to submit requests for Army Emergency Relief financial assistance directly through the installation AER office.

"Based on feedback we received from senior Army leaders, including the Sergeant Major of the Army, we decided that this is the right thing to do," said Foley.

"Over the last decade, these leaders have been entrusted with increasing levels of responsibility and have demonstrated the required trust and confidence to warrant this change."

Soldiers (E-1 thru E-4) are still required to complete the AER application and submit it to the unit company commander/first sergeant for their recommendation.

The goal of the campaign, Cohen said, is to obtain 100-percent contact of all Soldiers to ensure they are aware of the benefits AER can provide.

While the campaign ends May 15, service member may donate at any time. More details on assistance programs are available from unit AER officers or on the web at

Soldiers requiring assistance should contact their unit chain of command or go to their local installation AER office at 831-242-5501.

For the campaign, the 229th Military Intelligence Battalion company representatives may be contacted individually. Company A, 831-242-6302; Company B, 831-242-7944; Company C, 831-242-7382; Company D, 831-242-5301; Company E, 831-242-5195; Company F, 831-242-6666.