FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Recently when a Soldier in the 101st Airborne Division Sustainment Brigade lost his sister, Army Emergency Relief was there to help get him home to Jamaica.

"AER paid for that plane ticket so that Soldier could attend his sister's funeral," said Col. Joseph P. Kuchan, Fort Campbell garrison commander, during the 2019 AER kick off ceremony at the 101st Airborne Division headquarters.

Two weeks later his mother died. AER once again made it possible for him to attend to another Family loss.

"In a pretty short time there were some serious events in this Soldier's life and AER was able to take care of him," Kuchan said.

AER, which is managed by the Army Community Service-Financial Readiness Program, assists active-duty Soldiers and their Families, as well as Reserve and National Guard Soldiers on continuous active duty for more than 30 days, retirees and Gold Star spouses.

Although Fort Campbell AER collected about $233,000 in donations last year, the service provided $4 million in emergency assistance in the form of interest-free loans and grants, said Terrence Jones, ACS-Financial Readiness Program manager.

"That is $4 million, just here at Fort Campbell," Jones said. "So every donation counts."

Each year, Soldiers, Army Families as well as civilians are invited to make donations through the AER campaign. The program is sustained through donations as well as a versatile investment portfolio, but to remain financially viable it requires annual support from the very people AER is there to help.

"None of us know when an emergency is going to happen," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jason W. Osborne, garrison senior enlisted adviser. "It is very important that we continue to contribute so that we can take care of our own."

AER emergency assistance categories include food, utilities, rent or mortgage, medical or dental expenses, emergency or essential travel, travel funds for relocation, funeral expenses, vehicle repair or rental, replacement of primary vehicle, child car seats, cranial helmets, repair or replacement of basic appliances like a refrigerator or a stove, essential furniture, minor home repairs, personal needs when pay is delayed or stolen or needs caused by fire or other disaster.

"Your dollars impact AER with the ability to provide these services," Jones said.

HELP WHEN YOU NEED IT

Although assistance Soldiers receive through AER is handled confidentially, some Soldiers shy away from asking for help on post choosing predatory loans instead for emergency cash, said Rick Rzepka, ACS-Financial Readiness Program counselor.

There are approximately 38 payday and title loan companies in the cities of Hopkinsville, Oak Grove and Clarksville combined, said Steve Stone, ACS-Financial Readiness Program counselor.

"Payday loans on average run anywhere from 35.99 percent and I have seen as high as 900 percent interest," Stone said. "There are no restrictions for these lenders."

Many Soldiers fear that a temporary financial set back can have a long lasting impact on their Army careers if they confide in their commands, a notion that, Rzepka said, is unfounded.

"It takes more courage to come to AER and ask for help than it does to go on the economy and take out a loan without your command knowing about it," he said. "I think commanders across the board would rather know about their Soldiers' financial problems and send them to AER instead of having them taking out loans from predatory lenders."

Predatory loans have a tendency to turn a temporary problem into a bigger long-term financial issue, Stone said.

The staff at ACS-Financial Readiness is available to assist in a financial emergency with a no-interest AER loan or grant, and also can provide guidance to avoid such emergencies in the future.

"We want to be Soldiers' first choice when they need help," Jones said. "You can't beat [interest] free."

HOW TO DONATE

Donations can be made online at www.aerhq.org, by clicking on "donate," through unit AER representatives or by visiting the AER office at Army Community Service, 2602 Indiana Ave. For donations to remain at Fort Campbell online donors must annotate the electronic form they fill out.

Soldiers and Department of Defense civilians also may opt to make donations through allotment. To arrange for an allotment, unit AER representatives or the staff at ACS-Financial Readiness Program can assist.

The 2019 AER campaign continues through May 15.
For more information about AER or how to donate, call at 270-798-5518.