By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterMarch 9, 2017
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Soldiers helping Soldiers has been the driving force behind Army Emergency Relief for the past 75 years of the program providing America's warriors a place to turn to when faced with financial crisis.
The 2017 Army Emergency Relief fundraising campaign kicked off with a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum March 1 with the theme "A Legacy of Caring," which is something that is vital when taking care of Soldiers, said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander and 2017 AER campaign chairperson.
"AER is not an Army-funded program," she said during the kickoff. "It is unique in that it is a non-profit organization that centers around Soldiers helping Soldiers.
"Many of us here and many leaders in the room know how vital this program is to our Soldiers because many of our Soldiers will experience financial hardships, and [AER] provides a way of relief for our Soldiers," continued the garrison commander. "Let's continue that legacy of caring for our own as we have done for 75 years."
Miller said the goal for this year's campaign is to not only ensure that 100 percent of the Soldiers on post receive meaningful contact, but to ensure that each of the Soldiers understand the AER mission, so they know what it does to support them and their fellow Soldiers in times of need.
"If we are successful at reaching out to all of our Soldiers within the Fort Rucker community, this great program will continue to thrive and have meaningful impact for our Soldiers here at Fort Rucker," she said.
AER exists to help Soldiers, family members and retirees in times of financial need by providing several types of financial aid, including no-interest loans, financial grants and scholarships.
The ability for Soldiers to take care of their own Soldiers is fundamental to what the Army stands for, said Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general.
"That's what we do for each other -- we care for each other," he said during the ceremony. "I think it is an incredible thing that we have Soldiers who have the capability to care for other Soldiers in financial need."
Since 2001, AER has provided more than $965 million to help those in need, and there were 194 Soldiers, retirees and family members from Fort Rucker who received more than $322,000 in financial aid and grants, according to the commanding general.
Additionally, last year AER awarded more than $8 million in scholarships to over 4,000 spouses and children -- 71 came from the Wiregrass area, receiving a total of $148,000 in scholarships.
That level of caring and ability to give back to Soldiers and families is the reason why AER got its start back in 1942 when Irving Berlin, famed composer and lyricist who served in the Army during World War I, wrote the Broadway musical, "This is the Army," said Gayler.
"After having already served in World War I, Berlin saw a need, and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he visited with the then chief of staff of the Army to discuss the musical to highlight and bring awareness to the Soldiers, and that was the birth of [the musical], which featured an all-Soldier cast," he said. "It was a means of connecting the Army to the American citizen, and to get support for the Soldier during World War II and their families. It brought in revenue to help care for those Soldiers and their families during their time of need."
After 75 years, that legacy of caring continues today, and Fort Rucker and USAACE senior leaders joined in the effort to bring awareness and ensure that legacy endures.
"I ask that all of you be ambassadors for this program," said the commanding general. "There is nothing more powerful than a chain of command being able to solve a Soldiers problem on the spot. That will connect them to you, to the military, to this institution of values and a sense of giving that you cannot get easily anywhere else."