FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Contributors have donated more than $62,000 since the Army Emergency Relief campaign's 2018 launch in March, making the organizers' goal of exceeding last year's total a real possibility.

However, according to Beth Gunter, AER campaign organizer and Army Community Service financial counselor, the campaign also seeks to increase awareness of supported services.

"The primary goal for the AER Campaign is 100 percent training," she said. "This training not only expands awareness of the services offered by the AER program for all Soldiers, but emphasizes the need for continued support to AER.

"Donations of Soldiers from past generations have helped ensure the benefits of AER are available 76 years later for today's Army," she added. "Donations from Soldiers today will continue that legacy, impacting Soldiers of today and the future."

The overall goal of AER's annual campaign is to provide a support network for Soldiers throughout the Army family, as well as locally at Fort Rucker, Staff Sgt. Alexander Castle, AER assistant campaign coordinator, said.

"Ultimately, the goal is to provide emergency financial assistance and education scholarships in order to help alleviate the distress of U.S. Army Soldiers and their dependents," he said. "To that effect, AER does its best to provide assistance in most situations in which an eligible member would suffer financial hardship due to unexpected costs. The best advice is to seek assistance regardless of the cause for the hardship. While there is guidance on what can and can't be supported, special circumstances may still warrant AER assistance."

According to Gunter, each year's campaign rises to the challenge of helping Soldiers and families during difficult times.

"Last year, over $500,000 of assistance was provided to Soldiers and family members at Fort Rucker," she said. "The campaign last year raised $136,000. By pooling the funds at AER headquarters, they are able to be distributed where they are needed."

Castle echoed that sentiment.

"AER has a huge impact on Fort Rucker families and the Army community in general," he said. "In 2017, AER assisted almost 200 members with over $370,000 at Fort Rucker alone. Additionally, over 60 family members were awarded over $150,000 in scholarships. More than $61 million in assistance was provided Army-wide in 2016."
The campaign continues through May 15, but donations are accepted year round.

"Donations can be made year round and even conveniently online at aerhq.org," Castle said. "The official fundraising campaign is meant to focus awareness of the program, and to afford the communities a timeline for training and a dedicated time to increase their efforts in support of AER. Supporting AER is important because it's the only program I am aware of that can provide assistance within hours or days and is geared specifically with the best interest of our Army families in mind. Also, it is available regardless of where you find yourself in the world, and 24/7.

According to Castle, online donations will also count toward unit totals for Soldiers.

"As long as the Soldier notes their unit when donating online, the donation will count for their unit here at Fort Rucker," he said.

The traditional categories of assistance, according to Gunter, are emergency travel, rent, utilities, essential POV repairs, funeral expenses, food and gas.

"The categories of assistance have expanded to also cover advanced travel funds if there is a delay in receipt of advance pay or dislocation allowance, minor home repairs to include repair of the heating and cooling system, purchase/repair of stoves, refrigerators, washers and dryers when establishing a new household or to repair if required, and essential furniture when establishing a new household," she said. "Providing a no-interest loan to assist in these areas can assist Soldiers and their families from further financial hardship."

According to Castle, there are additional areas of assistance AER provides that may not be as well known.

"From my experience, one of the least known parts of AER is the availability of scholarships for spouses and children of service members," he said. "While a needs-based program, a very high percentage of applicants from all financial and rank backgrounds are approved. These are programs, which can only be provided with community support through donations, allow AER to create ways to support all Army families, beyond the overall concept of preventing undue financial hardship."

The 28th AER golf tournament begins May 4 at noon with registration at 10 a.m. at the Silver Wings Golf Course.

According to Gunter, 12 percent of Fort Rucker's overall donations last year came from the $16,000 raised due to the support of Soldiers and the community at the tournament.

For more information, visit https://www.aerhq.org.