FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker kicked off its annual Army Emergency Relief Campaign March 5 during a ceremony at The Landing.

Maj. Gen. William K. Gayler, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, spoke at the ceremony about the importance of the program and its theme of Soldiers Helping Soldiers -- It's What We Do for 2019.

He said this year marks "77 years of you helping your Soldiers, our Soldiers. It's awesome to serve in our Army because we have a commonality with each other, we have that sense of community that is so unseen in other occupations. And when you have the benefit of serving here in the Wiregrass area, that sense of community extends far beyond just the Army community.

"AER is an incredible program. I think oftentimes people don't realize how important it is to our Soldiers, but each of you probably has some testimonial of how it's helped one of your Soldiers." the general added. "I'll tell you it's critical that you tell them about it because I think we have a population that really doesn't fully understand what AER can do for our Soldiers."

The general then shared a story about a Fort Rucker Soldier who benefited from the program, even he didn't know anything about it -- getting assistance in dealing with over $10,000 in repairs to his vehicle after it suffered a blown engine.

"His chain of command weighed in and said here's the opportunities that are out there for you," Gayler said. "They got that individual connected with AER, and it really made him probably the strongest supporter of AER that we have in our Army because he flat out did not know it existed. He now is kind of singing the gospel about AER.

"I hope that is happening across all of your formations because this program really is under identified for its value," he added. "Because if you don't know about it you don't use it, and if you don't use it we can't help our own Soldiers."

The general added that Fort Rucker Soldiers recently have been receiving more support from AER than the annual campaign takes in to support the program.

"We had 273 Soldiers, retirees, family members and survivors receive over $413,000 in emergency assistance last year -- a $43,000 increase from the previous year," he said. "And $59,000 of that was presented in the form of a grant. The office also had the opportunity to help 61 service members when their homes were damaged by Hurricane Michael to the tune of about $87,000."

Fort Rucker also had 17 spouses and 51 children of service members receive scholarship assistance through AER to the tune of over $143,000, he added.

"When you look at the theme of this campaign: Soldiers Helping Soldiers -- that is truly what we do. It is all about our common exposure to service of this nation, it is all about our love of community, both locally and inside the Army, and really there is no greater form of satisfaction that being able to help one of your own Soldiers," Gayler said.

After the general spoke, leadership from throughout the post took part in a group signing of contributions to AER that also included many of the attendees of the kickoff.

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 29th annual Army Emergency Relief golf tournament will be held March 15 at Silver Wings Golf Course. Registration for the four-person scramble begins at 10 a.m. and the event kicks off with a shotgun start at noon. The entry fee is $55 per golfer for members of Silver Wings Golf Course and $65 per golfer for non-members. Entry fee includes cart and green fees, registration fee and lunch. All proceeds will be donated to Fort Rucker's Army Emergency Relief fund. To register, call (334) 598-4411 ext. 1317 or ext. 1303.