By Paul BelloMarch 19, 2009
FORT BELVOIR, Virginia (March 19,2009) --Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, director of the U.S. Army Emergency Relief program, stopped by the Fort Belvoir Community Center Wednesday to remind Soldiers of all the benefits associated with AER.
Over the past six years, Foley said the program has donated roughly $39 million to Soldiers and their families and that it currently has an endowment of almost $190 million waiting in the wings.
Whether that's too much or not enough in this time of economic crisis is another question, according to Foley. He said what does matter is the Army's commitment to answering the needs of every Soldier it comes across.
"I once recall a Sgt. 1st Class coming to us after his wife had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. They discovered that a doctor in Germany was offering special treatments that could help her with her illness, but that the final cost would amount to $125,000," Foley told the audience.
"As we have many times before, we wrote that Soldier a check for that amount and told him we were committed to helping him and his family. I'm happy to say that his wife is alive and they're both living happily in the Washington, D.C. area."
During its campaign for awareness, which will continue until May 15, Foley is hopeful to get many more Soldiers interested in donating and taking advantage of AER opportunities, such as scholarships and its command referral program.
The command referral program was first introduced three years ago and offers interest-free loans to active-duty Soldiers and their families.
Vonnie Blanken, Belvoir's AER officer, said the program is also open to retirees, their families and members of the National Guard and Reserve.
One of the best facets of AER, Blanken explained, is that when a Soldier repays his or her loan, the money goes right back to helping a fellow Soldier somewhere else in the Army.
"We're extremely flexible and willing to work with anyone in need. As a result of the mortgage crisis, we've been able to help our Soldiers and retirees keep things together and not get behind on things," Blanken said. "That's just one example.
"What we stress is if there's a valid need, we'll be here to help. We want our Soldiers and families to come to us before going somewhere else for assistance," she said.
In his third year as director, Foley said he's blessed to know there are well-qualified individuals helping those Soldiers who are in need of a little extra.
"We never ask for a penny. We tell our Soldiers that if you're going to donate, do what your heart tells you," Foley added. "This is a gratifying job for me. I see firsthand how what we're doing is helping to make a difference."
Installation Commander Col. Jerry Blixt commended everyone associated with the AER program, especially those working on post. According to him, Foley's not the only one who is blessed.
"At Belvoir, we're so very fortunate to have a great team working here," Blixt said. "They care deeply for our Soldiers and families. You couldn't ask for anything more than that."
More information about AER assistance programs is available at www.aerhq.org. Belvoir's AER office is located at 9800 Belvoir Road, Bldg. 200. It can be reached at 703-805-3130.