Financial hardship does not discriminate--it can strike anyone, at any time. These situations can create undue stress, especially when those struggling with hardship don't know where to go or who to turn to for help. The Army values of loyalty, duty, and integrity bind teammates together as a force and as a Family; during times of financial difficulty Soldiers should seek help from their teammates through the Army Emergency Relief (AER) Fund.

"AER should be the first choice for anyone in the Army Family who needs financial assistance. During my time in the Army I've had dozens of Soldiers receive assistance from AER," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey in a recorded statement. "Make Army Emergency Relief your first choice for financial assistance. Army Emergency Relief is 'Soldiers helping Soldiers.'"

Natick Soldier Systems Center (NSSC) hosted its 2019 AER campaign kick-off on Mar. 22 as part of an Army-wide effort to inform 100 percent of Soldiers about their options during times of financial difficulty.

"Sometimes life throws us a curve ball and doesn't go according to plan. We might face unexpected vehicle repairs or medical expenses, leading us to fall behind on rent or utility payments," said NSSC's senior commander Brig. Gen. Vincent Malone as he addressed the installation's active duty Soldiers and civilian personnel (many of whom are retired service members). "No one wants financial problems, but they happen. Thankfully we have options."

For 77 years, AER has provided approximately $2 billion in assistance, about half of which was distributed since 9/11, to nearly four million Army members. In 2018 alone AER provided financial assistance to over 40,000 Soldiers and Families that totaled $67.2 million. Unlike the bevy of predatory lenders quick to hand out funds alongside high interest rates, AER's loans are provided with zero percent interest. AER is an officially sanctioned non-profit and integral program of and for the Army team.

"This is a cause that is near and dear to me," said NSSC AER officer Diane Magrane. "Through deaths in the family, AER has been there. Through medical emergencies, emergency travel, and even natural disasters, AER has been there. For repairs to your POV (privately owned vehicle) so you can get to work and meet mission, AER has been there. For assistance with rent and utilities when things happen, AER has been there. To provide education scholarships for military families, AER has been there."

AER is no stranger to Natick. NSSC's AER office is the only one in New England, serving all Army members in the region, including the installation's own personnel. In the past year alone, the NSSC AER office has provided approximately $65,000 in emergency assistance loans and grants to area Soldiers, Retired Soldiers, and their Families. To provide insight into the impact of this program, several NSSC personnel shared their experiences with AER during the event.

"I got thrown a curve ball at 22," said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Angela Battista from the Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center (CCDC SC). "I returned to the U.S. from Germany and reported to my new duty assignment. Two months later my mom passed away. I asked myself, what do I do? Do I go out to a predatory lender or do I go to AER? I went to AER and I was home the next morning to be with my family."

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Plummer of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) said that many of his Soldiers have benefited from AER, including one whose wife was involved in a hit and run in Korea. The Soldier did not have the financial means to pay for his wife's medical expenses. AER was able to provide assistance within a few hours.

Diane Magrane, who also served as the event's organizer, concluded the program with a hard-hitting personal story. "My story is about a Soldier that I assisted with AER. He called me for assistance as he was going through a very difficult time between divorce and a death in the family. He proceeded to talk about the hardship he was experiencing and unfortunately his situation did not qualify him for AER's resources.

"I could hear that he was driving and he sounded anxious and agitated. I asked him to pull over and I continued to talk to him and provide him with other options. The next day he came into the office and said, 'I have to thank you ma'am. When I called you I nearly gave up.'

"If AER can't help, we're going to give you options for other resources. Luckily I took the time to talk to this Soldier."

Magrane continued, "We all have the same needs. We can't be afraid to ask for assistance. We can't be embarrassed or ashamed by it. It's life. Life happens. We need to support each other and let our battle buddies know about AER and share this important resource."

During a reception following the event, Soldiers voiced their opinions of the Army Emergency Relief Fund.

"I think it's good because a lot of Soldiers do go through financial problems so this is a great outlet for them instead of going to places to get loans with extremely high interest rates," said Sgt. Ronald Coney, assistant to NSSC's chaplain.

Pvt. Christian Ortiz said that he was grateful to know that he had an option to rely on "if and when times get tough."

Held each spring, the NSSC AER fundraising campaign will run through May 15, however contributions are accepted year round. The 2019 goal is to raise at least $30,000. Soldiers, military retirees, civilians, and contractors are all encouraged to support the campaign.

For more information, or to contribute to the AER Fund, please call 508-233-4485 or email diane.k.magrane.civ@mail.mil. Additional information is available at www.aerhq.org.