FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker community donated more than $136,000 during last year's Army Emergency Relief campaign and officials hope to top that number in 2018.

This year's campaign kicks off March 1 and Beth Gunter, Army Community Service financial counselor, said AER provides direct support to local Soldiers.

"Last year, Fort Rucker contributed $136,172," she said. "However, over $551,861 of assistance was provided to Fort Rucker Soldiers, retirees, family members, and surviving spouses and orphans -- $236,499 of that assistance was provided as grants and scholarships. The donations provided to the campaign are contributed to AER to be used for Soldiers, regardless their location."

The 2018 campaign theme is "There for Those Who Serve," she added.

"Army Emergency Relief was founded to support those Soldiers who commit themselves to defend and protect our country," Gunter said. "Both active duty and retired Soldiers are eligible to apply for AER assistance to assist during times of financial hardship."

According to Gunter, the goal is to allow AER to continue to be there for those who serve.

"We sincerely hope that all Soldiers will consider the opportunity this program provides and give as they are able," she said.

According to Gunter, a bulk of the donations is gathered from fellow Soldiers who choose to donate through their unit representative, Soldiers helping Soldiers. But anyone who chooses to do so voluntarily can donate to AER using the online form available at http://www.aerhq.org .

"For those donating online, if they note the unit they are with, their donation will be counted towards the Fort Rucker and their unit's donation totals," Gunter added.

The traditional categories of assistance are emergency travel, rent, utilities, essential privately-owned vehicle repairs, funeral expenses, food and gas," according to Gunter.

"The categories of assistance have expanded to also include first month's rent, security deposits and other PCS move costs, if there is a delay in receipt of advance pay or dislocation allowance," she said. "This involves minor home repairs to include repair of the heating and cooling system; purchase/repair of stoves, refrigerator, washer and dryer when establishing a new household or to repair if required; and essential furniture when establishing a new household.

"Providing a no-interest loan to assist in these areas can assist Soldiers and their families by avoiding additional costs causing further financial hardship," she added.

According to Gunter, Soldiers are eligible to receive more than one AER assistance, if necessary.

"In fact, if a Soldier is paying off a loan and experiences an additional financial hardship, they can request additional assistance through AER," she said. "Financial stress can become overwhelming and consuming which, in turn, can impact a Soldier in other areas of their life. With AER helping to alleviate the financial stress, the Soldier can focus on the mission at hand."

For more information, call 255-2341 or visit www.aerhq.org.