Fort Jackson launched this year's Army Emergency Relief campaign Friday at an unlikely location: Century Lanes.

It was a relaxed occasion, one designed to emphasize the theme of this year's campaign -- "It's what we do." The AER program is a private nonprofit organization established to help the Army provide financial assistance to Soldiers and their Families through no-interest loans and grants, as well as scholarships to children and spouses of active-duty and retired Soldiers.

To get this year's campaign rolling, a handful of commanders shared vignettes illustrating real-world examples of AER taking care of Soldiers on Fort Jackson.

"The one thing we never want to see is our Soldiers suffer," Brig. Gen. Milford H. "Beags" Beagle Jr., Fort Jackson commander, told the gathering of Soldiers last week at the bowling alley. It's the job of leadership to remove the stigma from asking for help in times of need, he said.

When he was still a brigade commander at Fort Jackson, Beagle said he had some experience with one of the few cases denied for AER support. It happens so infrequently that he knew something was being overlooked.

"It took me to get involved," he said. "All it took was a letter from me to lay out the rest of the story and it got approved. At whatever level you sit, you have a piece in it to make sure our Soldiers get help. When they reach out, another hand needs to be there to grab it and pull it.

"Giving to AER is your way of being Soldiers," he said.

Capt. Matthew Smith, medical company commander, spoke of the experiences of two Soldiers on post. One was the mother of four who went on temporary duty assignment for a few months who had taken the time to schedule band drafts to cover expenses while she was away.

"When she got off TDY she found out none of those drafts had come out," Smith said. "Her car payment was past due, her rent was past due and she didn't have the money to pay those without taking money for her kids' clothing or food."

Moncrief referred her to AER, who provided a loan to help get her expenses back on track.
He said, 'We know some great people over at AER who can help you out.' She was able to get a loan that could not only pay for her car and rent, but she was able to work out payments where it didn't affect her and she was able to carry on."

Another Soldier lost their vehicle because of mounting expenses. Again, he said, AER was able to help.

"They were able to sit down with her and help her with some financial issues and give her a loan to not only get her car back, but set her up so she didn't have to use money to pay her other bills," he said. "She was able to set up a good financial plan that enabled her to move forward."

AER played a major role in a tragedy that took place on post in 2017, as well, said Lt. Col. Jason Pieri, 2nd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment commander. A Soldier driving a pickup towing a water trailer fell asleep behind the wheel, colliding with Soldiers in a ruck march ahead of him. Two were killed, another six injured.

"At that time, Army Community Service stepped in and filled a huge need for our battalion," Pieri said. "As you can imagine, getting a phone call in the middle of the night that your loved one -- your son, your daughter, your husband, your wife -- has been injured or killed in an accident, you're going to do whatever you've got to do to get to Fort Jackson."

Many of the Families did not have the resources to travel and arrived on post with "little more than the clothing on their backs," he said.

"That's where ACS stepped in with AER grants," Pieri said. "One (trainee) was here for as long as a month as his hips were completely rebuilt, and those Families had everything they could possibly ask for and were taken care of by ACS and AER."

A Soldier in his battalion recently suffered a personal loss, as well.

"We unfortunately had a drill sergeant whose wife passed away recently from cancer," he said. "As he planned his wife's funeral, where she was buried at her home in Hawaii, he needed help getting his Family to the islands and didn't have that money readily available. "

An AER grant was secured for the Soldier to help cover travel expenses.

"He's back on his feet again with his Family and contributing to our team," Pieri said.

"Those are the direct impacts ACS and AER have had on our mission here at Fort Jackson, and that's just one of the eleven battalions," he said. While there are other options available to help people raise or borrow money for emergencies, AER is a program that belongs to Soldiers.

"The Fort Jackson AER and ACS team looks for ways to say 'yes.' I have never once gone to them and asked for help and been told 'no,'" he said. "They have found a way, whether it was an exception to policy or outside resources, to help our Soldiers.

As a private non-profit company, AER receives no direct funding from the government and is not part of any government-funded compensation or assistance program. The campaign runs March 1 to May 15.