By Will KingMarch 10, 2009
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Fort Leavenworth began its 2009 Army Emergency Relief Annual Fund Raising Campaign with a kick-off ceremony Feb. 27 at the Frontier Conference Center. The AER national campaign slogan this year is "Adding Strength to Army Strong."
AER is a private nonprofit organization founded in 1942 with the mission of providing emergency financial assistance to Soldiers and their families.
Second Lt. Matthew Hamilton of the 705th Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion is the Garrison AER campaign coordinator. He said the goal this year is to raise $75,000 for AER from Fort Leavenworth and the surrounding communities. Hamilton said last year the goal was $55,000, but AER received more than $80,000 in contributions.
According to AER, $370,543 was paid in direct assistance to Fort Leavenworth Soldiers and families in 2008, a fraction of AER's record total $83 million in assistance last year.
AER's Command Referral Program allows company commanders and first sergeants to approve interest-free loans up to $1,000 for Soldiers in their command. Hamilton said he has been at Fort Leavenworth for a little more than two months, and has already seen AER funds help six of his Soldiers with various needs.
Speaking at the event was retired Col. Dennis Spiegel, AER's deputy director for administration. He responded to a Feb. 22 article by the Associated Press that was highly critical of AER.
Spiegel emphasized several points about AER as a non-profit organization and how it operates that he said were not accurately represented in the AP article.
n AER is not a charity organization; it provides emergency assistance to Soldiers and their families.
n AER is not a veteran's assistance program; however, retirees are eligible for AER assistance.
n AER can only give assistance when a specific need has been identified.
n The amount of funds given by AER in assistance must exactly match the need; money cannot just be given away.
Spiegel also said AER has received Charity Navigator's highest rating of four stars for three years in a row, while the AP is not equipped to accurately assess non-profit organizations.
He defended AER's large cash reserves and investments as necessary, saying AER has always existed from portfolio income and could not exist from donations alone. Spiegel said the current economic situation has hit AER hard, with its investment portfolio losing 27 percent of its value or a little more than $80 million.
Spiegel said AER had set new records consecutively over the last four years for the amount of assistance given. He said AER is ready to help Soldiers and families, but they must first know about an existing need in order to offer assistance.
"The amount of money is not the issue, the need is," Spiegel said.
Fort Leavenworth Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. John Cross II had nothing but praise for AER and its record of assistance to Soldiers and families.
"This is a Soldier's program. It's Soldiers taking care of Soldiers," Cross said. "They (AER) look for ways to help the Soldier and family."
The Fort Leavenworth AER campaign is now through May 15. Active and retired military personnel who want to contribute to AER should see their unit AER representative and arrange to donate through allotment. Civilians can make lump-sum contributions to unit AER representatives or through Army Community Service.
For more information about AER visit their Web site at http://www.aerhq.org.