FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker kicks off its 2019 Army Emergency Relief campaign March 5 at noon at The Landing to begin achieving its goal of 100-percent awareness of the program within the on-post community.

Of course, the campaign, which runs March 1 to May 15, is also about getting donations so AER can continue its mission, but officials believe the program sells itself when people are armed with the knowledge that AER is all about Soldiers helping Soldiers, which, as officials say in this year's theme, "It's What We Do," according to Beth Gunter, Army Community Service financial counselor who works with AER at Fort Rucker.

"Yes, we request donations during this time, but the biggest goal of the campaign is to increase awareness of the program," she said. "To let Soldiers know that they have these benefits and how to go about applying for them if they need them when experiencing an unexpected hardship. Funds usually come when we do presentations to help people understand what the program is about and how they can help support their fellow Soldiers."

Traditionally, the kickoff event is held at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, but Gunter and Maj. Nelson Gray, 1-145th Aviation Regiment and Fort Rucker AER coordinator, decided to try something different, so they moved it to The Landing at lunchtime to make it easier for people to attend.

The event will feature people speaking about their experiences with the program, recent changes to the program, a trivia event where people can earn donated gifts, and then a donation signing by post leadership where others will be allowed to take part at other tables, as well. Tables will also be set up to provide information on AER and how it benefits to the Army family, including scholarship opportunities, Gray said.

"We want to make sure people know that AER is here for Soldiers, and that it's a critical part of our Fort Rucker community," he said. "Fort Rucker is a close community -- we take care of each other."

And AER takes care of Soldiers by helping them dig themselves out of emergency financial hardship, and helps prevent them from digging themselves into an even bigger hole through oftentimes costly loans found in the civilian world, Gunter said.

The norm is for AER to loan Soldiers money to help them through hard times, but AER officials will also look at each Soldier's overall financial situation and, if warranted, may convert that loan into a grant, which does not need to be repaid, she added.

"We look at every case as an interest-free loan to start with -- that's how we stay above as a program, we just kind of reuse the money over and over again for helping Soldiers -- but we do give out grants also, so when we look at what caused the financial hardship, the ability to repay and what they are asking for assistance for could very well be something worthy of a grant," the financial counselor said.

"We want to take care of our Soldiers to ensure they are able to stay mission focused rather than stressing out over these financial hardships that they may be incurring," Gunter added.

And once that AER cavalry is called for, it rides to the rescue pretty quickly, particularly if Soldiers take advantage of the relatively new Commander-First Sergeant Quick Assist Program, she said. The program allows commander and first sergeants approval authority for $2,000 in financial assistance to Soldiers.

"They can be the go-to for Soldiers undergoing financial hardship," she said. "If a Soldier has needs for categories we can assist with, the Soldier can go to the commander or first sergeant and they can sign off on it. Then they bring it to me and I cut them a check because the commander or first sergeant have approved it."

AER is also a firm believer in the Soldier for Life philosophy, Gunter said, as it offers assistance to retired Soldiers, as well.

"When I go out to retiree fairs, I find a lot of them don't realize they can use it," she said, adding that retirees are usually a large contributor group to the AER campaign. "After Soldiers retire from service, many of them continue to give to AER to make sure that these younger Soldiers are taken care of -- it just kind of gives credibility to the program."

And that credibility also comes from the fact that for every dollar AER takes in, 86 cents goes to helping Soldiers, Gunter said, adding that AER took in in $6.4 million in donations last year, gave out $67 million in assistance, with $6.7 million of that in grants. That assistance also included helping Soldiers and retirees recover from disasters, such as hurricanes.

People can get more information or donate to AER by getting in contact with their unit AER coordinator, visiting www.aerhq.org, or by visiting or calling the local AER office in Bldg. 5700, Rm. 350 (255-2341).

The Army Aviation Federal Credit Union will also host its annual golf tournament to benefit AER March 15. More details will be released when they become available.