FORT MEADE, Md. Aca,!" The 2009 Army Emergency Relief campaign is officially under way.
The campaign, which will run through May 15, began March 19 with a kickoff ceremony at McGill Training Center.

The event featured remarks by the AER director, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam in 1966.

Other participants included Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas; Command Sgt. Major Esmond Bakker; Lt. Col. Anne Huntington-Lozis; Headquarters Command Battalion commander; and Col. Rob Tempel, commander of Fort Meade's Dental Activity, along with about 50 Soldiers representing various units on post.

AER is the Army's "emergency financial assistance organization" and offers grants and interest-free loans to active-duty and retired Soldiers, activated Reservists and their family members. Money received from AER can be used for a variety of needs, including food, rent and utilities, funeral expenses, emergency transportation and vehicle repair. There is no limit on the amount of money that Soldiers can receive, and no limit on the amount of times they can receive help.

"It's our commitment to take care of Soldiers and family members," Foley said. "It does not matter how much the cost. If there is a valid need, then that is our mission, our responsibility. And thatA,A1s what we continue to do." Between 2003 and 2008, AER distributed $335 million, Foley said. With each year, the program has helped more Soldiers, family members and retirees. For instance, in 2004 the agency doled out $38 million in grants and interest-free loans. By 2006 that number was up to $58 million; last year it reached $83 million.

"Without a doubt, [AER] is a serious, important, critical program in the Army," Thomas said.

During his presentation, Foley stressed the importance of the Command Referral Program, a component of AER that allows commanders and first sergeants to approve loans of up to $1,000 for their Soldiers.

"This is another great opportunity for commanders and leaders to care for their Soldiers, another thing in their kit bag," Foley said.

AER is not only available on Army installations, but also through Air Force, Navy, Marine and Coast Guard bases and Red Cross chapters worldwide, Foley said.
"The uncertainty these days, the financial crisis that has hit the world. ... I want to be able to always say that we will have the resources available for any Soldier or family member that comes forward with valid needs, and we will be able to provide that money," Foley said. "I feel good that we will be able to do that." AER also offers scholarships to dependent children and spouses of active duty, activated Reserve and retired Soldiers. Last year, 3,200 children and 1,600 spouses received scholarship money from AER, Foley said. The maximum grant is $2,500 per year, and the money goes directly to the school.

Following last week's kickoff ceremony, representatives from various units on post took part in training and received their AER campaign materials, said Gwen Galloway, Fort Meade's AER officer.

Each unit will have a point of contact responsible for coordinating the campaign, said Galloway, noting there is no minimum or maximum donation requirement. "We are grateful for everything we get."

For more information about donating to this year's AER campaign, see your unit representative, contact Gwen Galloway at 301-677-4542 or e-mail Gwendolyn.galloway@us.army.mil or visit www.aerhq.org.