The 2018 Army Emergency Relief Campaign kicked off on Fort Leonard Wood March 8 with a special ceremony at the Main Post Chapel.

Fort Leonard Wood senior leaders made the installation's first contributions to the campaign at the event, which featured Raymond Mason, AER director, as keynote speaker.

"Our goal this year is to raise $125,000," said Col. Tracy Lanier, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Leonard Wood commander. "We exceeded that goal last year and hope to do that this year."

Maj. Gen. Kent Savre, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general, encouraged those attending the ceremony to learn more about AER and to help inform the community.

"AER is for Soldiers and it's for commanders -- it's our program," Savre said comparing the program to an insurance policy for Soldiers.

"If you fall on hard times, it's your insurance policy. It doesn't matter how much you give, even a little bit helps. We want to make sure people are informed about what the program can provide. I want to make sure our commanders, Soldiers, (and) leaders at every level fully understands what AER can do for us."

Although the campaign goal is $125,000, the AER leadership's primary goal is to make sure Soldiers are 100 percent informed about the program.

Mason encouraged commanders to mentor their Soldiers about AER.

"You have got to guide them, and train them and teach them," he said. "Being 100 percent informed is a conversation."

AER provides a variety of emergency financial assistance to Soldiers, retirees and family members, including travel costs for emergency or convalescent leave, mortgage or rent payment assistance, utility, food and fuel help, (vehicle) payment or emergency repairs, travel costs for PCS, minor home repairs for heating/cooling/electrical and plumbing, child car seats and cranial helmets, dependent dental care assistance, and appliance repair or replacement, among other things.

"We don't get tax payers money, this is all Soldiers' money," Mason said. "Our mission is to relieve financial distress on the force. This is about readiness. If a Soldier and family are consumed with other issues, beside their training, their unit mission or combat mission they are not as combat effective as they could be. And if they do go into combat and they have all these other issues going on, they are a danger to themselves and to their brothers and sisters. This is about financial readiness which translates into combat readiness."

The money from the fundraising campaign goes toward assisting local Soldiers, retirees and their dependents throughout the year. In 2017 local AER staff provided $548,912 in loans and grants to 430 local Soldiers and retirees.

The Fort Leonard Wood AER Campaign is scheduled to run through May 31. For more information on how to donate, contact Capt. Jason Cook or 2nd Lt. Nick Morales at 573.596.2600, or to request assistance, contact Chuck Matthews, AER officer, at 573.596.0212.