FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Feb. 23, 2018) -- Army Emergency Relief representative and senior leaders from across the 10th Mountain Division (LI) gathered at the Commons on Feb. 22 for the AER campaign kickoff event.

Mike Ferguson, Fort Drum AER specialist, said that last year was a busy one for the post's AER staff, who processed 1,275 cases. Soldiers at Fort Drum benefited from $1.7 million in AER assistance in 2017, and Ferguson said that 10 percent of the funds were processed as grants or a combination of grant and loan.

Additionally, Fort Drum community members contributed $162,000 to the campaign in donations last year.

Retired Sgt. Maj. Glen Wellman, from Army Emergency Relief headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, was the guest speaker for the event.

"Seventy-six years ago, the men and women of this country's greatest generation saw a need to band together and support their comrades-in-arms. Out of their sense of responsibility, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Army Emergency Relief was born," he said. "Army Emergency Relief is now, and always will be, part of the Army team."

Since 1942, AER has provided more than $1.9 billion in financial assistance to Soldiers, and Wellman noted that roughly $1 billion was provided since the 9/11 attack on the U.S. He said that AER has adapted and evolved to meet the needs of Soldiers, and the program strives to be the Soldiers' first choice when assistance is needed.

"We want to continue to evolve so we are ready and relevant, and continue to help Soldiers and their Families for the next 76 years and longer," Wellman said.

Wellman said that AER approved over 99 percent of all requests for assistance, and in 2017, one out of every 15 Soldiers on active duty was assisted with nearly $70 million loans and grants.

"Did you know that 88 percent of all Soldiers that come to AER are provided assistance only that one time? That's correct," he said. "Most Soldiers use AER exactly how it was intended -- for sudden, unforeseen situations that are beyond a Soldier's control such as emergency leave or a high-dollar car repair."

AER has also increased assistance thresholds to $2,000 for command referral limit and $3,000 for the self-referral level. Wellman also said that AER provides over 50 percent of funds for emergency travel for Soldiers and their dependents in accordance with AR 600-8-10.

"That 50 percent assistance could increase to 100 percent depending on circumstance and scenario," he said.

Additionally, assistance categories have been expanded to include up to $5,000 for emergency minor home repairs. This support has been crucial for Soldiers having to react to national disasters in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

While this year's monetary campaign goal is $150,000, the primary goal is to inform 100 percent of the Soldiers at Fort Drum. He said the goal in previous years was to contact every Soldier, which was not an effective campaign strategy and likened it to receiving a telemarketing call with no long-lasting impact.

"I'm trying to encourage each and every one of you to invest in each other," Wellman said. "The last time I checked, that's why many of us serve. What I'm offering you is an opportunity to join a legacy of Soldiers helping Soldiers. Generations of Soldiers have donated to Army Emergency Relief so that no Soldier has to face a hardship on their own."

Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Roark, 10th Mountain Division (LI) senior enlisted adviser, shared a few AER facts to remind everyone of other ways AER assists Soldiers. He said that AER can assist Soldiers and their Families with funeral costs, essential home furnishing and rent and mortgages. Having a high school senior in his own Family, Roark also reminded the audience that now is a good time to apply for an AER scholarship. AER online scholarship applications for spouses of active-duty Soldiers and children of active-duty and retired Soldiers can be found at www.aerhq.org.

The AER fundraising campaign starts March 1 and runs through May 31.

"The biggest thing I want to put out there is that our nation gives us their best, and it is our job is to take care of them," he said.

To learn more about the AER campaign at Fort Drum, call (315) 772-6560 or follow www.facebook.com/FortDrumArmyEmergencyRelief/ on Facebook. The AER division campaign coordinators are Maj. Ary Quiros, (315) 772-6733, and Master Sgt. Kenny Pilkenton, (315) 772-8620.