Command Sgt. Maj. Jasper Johnson, Fort Rucker garrison command sergeant major, and Chester Witkowski, deputy to the garrison commander, present Beth Gunter, Fort Rucker AER officer, with a check representing the amount raised during the 2020 AER campaign during a ceremony Aug. 18. (Photo Credit: Jim Hughes) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Fort Rucker Army Emergency Relief Campaign came to its official close Aug. 18 during a ceremony where officials reported that donations exceeded last year’s despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Campaign officials and volunteers spearheaded this year’s effort to raise a total of more than $160,000, exceeding last year’s total by $13,000 and placing Fort Rucker among the highest contribution metrics in the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, according to Capt. Andrew Tehvand, D Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment and Fort Rucker 2020 AER campaign coordinator.

“This year’s campaign posed many complications that were expertly handled by Beth Gunter, Fort Rucker AER officer,” Tehvand said. “Staff Sgt. Jason Tudor and Staff Sgt. Sammydee Aeakahana, assistant campaign coordinators, solved each unique problem as they arose.”

Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, spoke at the ceremony and thanked all of the volunteers and local AER officials for a successful campaign despite being interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic almost immediately after starting March 1.

“Thank you to all of the volunteers who gave a hand up to Soldiers taking part in this year’s campaign,” Francis said, adding that the campaign was paused three weeks after its start because of the pandemic and then picked back up July 1. “Our volunteers did an absolutely phenomenal job despite the COVID challenges for our Soldiers out there – about one in three Soldiers on Fort Rucker donated to this cause to help other Soldiers and their families.”

In 2019, Soldiers at Fort Rucker received more than $300,000 in assistance via interest-free loans and grants when they turned to AER as a solution to their financial hardships, the general said, adding that 105 spouses and dependents also received almost $220,000 in scholarships for the 2020-21 school year from the program.

“Our Warrior Ethos states that we never leave a fallen comrade, and AER helps us to do that through Soldiers helping Soldiers,” Francis said, adding that retirees can benefit from AER, as well. “Contributions to this year’s campaign will make a lasting impact for generations to come.

“I’m very proud of the Fort Rucker community for stepping up and lending a helping hand to Soldiers – it’s really critical in this day and age, with the challenges that we’ve had with COVID, to make sure that our Soldiers aren’t experiencing any undo financial hardship,” he added. “AER and our leadership have helped us to do that. You’ve all made a significant difference in the lives of our Soldiers and their families.

“We are deeply grateful and truly appreciate all that you’ve done and continue to do for all of our Soldiers and their families,” he said. “Congratulations on a hugely successful AER campaign.”

Chester Witkowski, deputy to the Fort Rucker garrison commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jasper Johnson, garrison command sergeant major, presented Gunter with a check representing the amount raised for the campaign to close the ceremony that was held before a limited audience in the USAACE headquarters building. All In Credit Union also donated $8,000 to the campaign.