FORT RUCKER, Ala. (June 17, 2016) -- Army Emergency Relief exists for Soldiers, family members and retirees facing financial hardship, and Fort Rucker did its part to help Soldiers help Soldiers during this year's fundraising campaign.

The 2016 AER campaign season came to a close June 6 during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum and more than $150,000 was raised to go toward helping those in the Army family experiencing times of financial need.

"I'm extremely proud of each and every one of you," said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander and AER campaign chairperson, to those who contributed to AER. "Your commitment and compassion to the Fort Rucker community enabled us to pass last year's campaign by more than $19,000 -- a great accomplishment."

Of that amount, retirees donated over $60,000, which represents about 40 percent of the contributed funds, and the Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union raised $15,000 for the campaign through the 26th Annual AACFCU Golf Tournament.

"AER provides an enormous financial support for the Army and its families simply by providing a system that allows Soldiers the chance to take care of one another," said Col. Robert T. Ault, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff.

AER was incorporated in 1942 by the secretary of war as a private, nonprofit corporation, and its original mission was to assist and mobilize Reserve pilots in the Army Air Corps who's military pay was just a fraction of what they were making as civilians, said the chief of staff.

"Today, Army Emergency Relief is still providing support to Soldiers, unique in that it is an organization that is based on Soldiers helping Soldiers, providing a means for those facing financial hardship to obtain no-interest loans and in some instances, grants," said Ault. "AER is a program that provides resources to help Soldiers and their families alleviate their financial hardship rather than find themselves in further hardship with many off-post agencies. The intent is to provide a financially responsible alternative for Soldiers, so that they're not tempted to turn to (predatory lenders)."

The program recognizes many scenarios as urgent, including falling behind on rent or utility payments, having unexpected vehicle repairs, or even having a need for furniture for a newlywed couple moving into a home.

AER also encompasses programs within itself to better serve Soldiers, such as the Commanders Referral Program, which is a program designed to provide a quick and simple procedure of processing emergency assistance requests, said the USAACE chief of staff.

"It gives a commander and first sergeant the authority to approve an interest-free loan when Soldiers have defined a solid need for the request that falls within the established criteria," he said. "Twenty three percent of the assistance provide on Fort Rucker last year was through the Commanders Referral Program, demonstrating the commanders' response to the Soldiers' needs and the importance of the AER program for those here at Fort Rucker."

Additionally, AER provides undergraduate-level scholarships based on financial needs for children and spouses of Soldiers and retirees, Ault added. During the 2015-2016 school year, 18 spouses and 47 dependent children benefitted from $130,000 in scholarships.

Although AER's contributions are far reaching, none of it would be possible without the support of contributors and unit coordinators, said the garrison commander.

"The job (you coordinators had) was twofold," said Miller. "You all had the job to make everyone in your units aware of what AER provides, and you also provided the opportunity for the units to contribute to the campaign, so you enabled the AER program to continue to provide for our Soldiers and our families, and you have made a tremendous impact."

At the beginning of the campaign, each unit was challenged to earn the coveted traveling challenge cup, which is awarded in three categories: Primary Military Organization, Student Training Organization and Directorate.

The challenge cup winners were: B Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, Primary Military Organization winner; D Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, Student Training Organization winner; and the Directorate of Simulations, Directorate winner.

The challenge cup winners were determined on a per-capita collection basis, which was calculated by dividing the amount of Soldiers in the unit by how much was collected.

Winning units keep the trophies on display until the next campaign season.

It's the dedication of those unit coordinators, as well as those who contributed with either donations or efforts, that has made AER a success, but Ault insists that the work is not done.

"Soldiers, retirees and their families need to know that AER assistance is available in times of financial need," said the USAACE chief of staff. "Army Emergency Relief is dedicated to never leave a Soldier in need, and provide Army leaders with a valuable asset in ensuring a ready source of financial assistance for their Soldiers and families."