FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Fort Campbell took in more Army Emergency Relief contributions than any other Army installation in 2020 and post leaders announced an even bigger goal for this year during the Feb. 5 AER campaign kickoff at McAuliffe Hall.
“Fort Campbell, the 101st (Airborne Division), its tenant units – we were the highest contributors in all of the Army and that’s a pretty big deal,” Col. Jeremy D. Bell, Fort Campbell garrison commander, told a crowd of representatives from units across the installation who will be leading the drive. “We collected over $200,000 so, we met our goal. We beat Fort Bragg, of course that’s our principal target every year, and we’ll do that again this year. You have a lot to be proud of, a lot of great history of giving, and certainly, we want to continue that as we move forward.”
Terrence Jones, Fort Campbell Army Community Service-Financial Readiness Program manager, said this year’s goal is to raise $250,000 for AER, which provides loans and grants to Soldiers and their Families, retirees and Gold Star spouses in unexpected financial emergencies. With the themes of “Soldiers Helping Soldiers,” and “A Hand Up for Soldiers,” Jones is confident the campaign will be another success.
This year’s campaign begins March 15 and continues through July 2.
Sergeant First Class Johnnie McDaniel, 227th Composite Supply Company, 129th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 101st Abn. Div. Sustainment Brigade, is the campaign coordinator and said each brigade has AER representatives who will take a class and then share information about the campaign and how Soldiers can contribute to help other Soldiers.
Staff Sergeant David Leonard, 561st Military Police Company, 716th Military Police Battalion, knows all too well how AER can help.
During his Army career, Leonard has used AER twice.
“AER has helped me a lot,” Leonard said. “When I first joined, I was deployed and my vehicle had broken down, so my wife had to use AER to get the vehicle fixed. It was an emergency because it was our only vehicle at the time.”
AER provides assistance for emergencies including unexpected car repairs, rent, utilities and travel, among other things.
“Recently I had some Family issues come up and we wound up having to pay for a funeral,” Leonard said. “They helped us with getting the money to go to South Carolina and then later on we had to get the AER loan to pay for the funeral expenses. It helped us out and they didn’t ask a lot of questions. They were really kind and courteous, understanding of the situation.”
As an NCO, Leonard has found many Soldiers are reluctant to use AER.
“I don’t know if they’re embarrassed or what, but everybody needs to use AER at some time or another,” he said. “Not everybody has $5,000 or $6,000 sitting in their bank account to pay for unexpected funeral expenses.”
By providing no-interest loans, AER can keep Soldiers from getting deeper into debt and possibly hurting their security clearance and military careers.
“Our goal is to be the Soldiers’ first choice, rather than going outside the installation to a high interest loan entity,” Jones said.
There will always be unforeseen emergencies but AER is here to help, said Maj. Gen. Brian E. Winski, commanding general of the 101st Abn. Div. and Fort Campbell.
“AER serves as a phenomenal guardrail that prevents a near emergency situation from becoming cata-strophic,” Winski said during the campaign kickoff.
McDaniel said another focus of the campaign is to make sure every Soldier at Fort Campbell knows about AER, the campaign and how to contribute.
“We want to touch every Soldier,” he said. “We want them to know what AER is, what it does and how it can help every Soldier, because at the end of the day, we’re here to help the Soldiers.”
Jones said Fort Campbell’s AER provides an average of $3 million to $4 million in assistance each year.
There is no set amount Soldiers or retirees are asked to contribute, but each makes a difference, he said.
“They can make a one-time payment, an allotment for 12 months, six months, whatever they want,” Jones said. “That’s their choice. All donations are accepted.”
Steve Stone, financial readiness specialist for ACS, said he has seen a greater need for assistance since the COVID-19 pandemic began because of job loss or a reduction in work hours.
“They’re looking for assistance with utilities, rent, basic living needs because of COVID-19,” Stone said.
Families that depend on two paychecks may be down to just one, which impacts those Families financially, he said. “It’s hard raising a Family when you’ve had an income reduced or lost.”
Donations can be made through payroll deductions, online at AERHQ.org, or by calling the AER office at 270-798-5518.