FORT BENNING, Ga. – The pandemic delayed last year’s Army Emergency Relief campaign but this year it kicked off on time with social distancing and a video message.
Usually the annual fundraising campaign for Army Emergency Relief runs from March 1 through May 15. The pandemic response pushed it to the summer and this year, because of COVID-19 mitigation measures and General Order 8, the Maneuver Center of Excellence command team sent a video message, the Fort Benning MWR Facebook page livestreamed the kick-off rally because attendance was limited.
Last year, AER helped more than 1,100 Fort Benning Soldiers with $3 million in interest-free loans and grants, said Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, commanding general of the MCoE and Fort Benning, in the video. However, the Fort Benning monetary contribution to AER was $128,000.
“That’s a huge disparity in our generosity and what we’re receiving from AER,” he said.
AER is a Soldiers’ program, said 1st Sgt. Tomeka Eaddy, with A Company, Medical Department Activity. It’s Soldiers helping Soldiers.
“I used AER back on 9/11 to get back to Hawaii,” Eaddy said. “I was on leave, visiting my brother who worked at the Pentagon. The other time, I had car repairs that were more than my savings.”
Eaddy said she and her commander served as the unit’s project officers for the campaign.
“I want Soldiers to know there is no shame in needing help,” she said.
“Life happens,” said Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Brett Johnson, who has approval authority for every installation AER loans.
“You don’t really understand the impact until you see the five or six emails you get every day from AER,” he said.
It is “super important” that Soldiers know about the AER program, Johnson said.
Often there are young Soldiers who have fallen on hard times and they don’t know about AER and how to get help with unexpected expenses, Johnson said.
“They can’t pay their bills and they have a loan with a 27% interest rate,” Johnson said.
This happens because they don’t know about the AER program, he said.
“Taking care of our Soldiers and our family members is the No. 1 priority on the installation and in the Army,” he said. “People first. The sergeant major of the Army talks about this is my squad and understanding what we can do for our folks on the installation is really, really important.”
1st Sgt. Steve Gonzalez, with 316th Cavalry Regiment, said he briefs the incoming Armor Basic Officer Leader Course lieutenants on the Quick Assist Program, which helps Soldiers resolve short-term cash flow issues and deters Soldiers from using payday loans, pawn shops and title loan businesses.
“We have initial entry Soldiers, both enlisted and officers, who aren’t prepared for situations they might encounter – getting a home, things of that nature and pay hasn’t started,” Gonzalez explained.
“I really encourage everyone to please donate to AER,” he said. “We can’t help Soldiers helping Soldiers if we don’t have that money coming in.”
Lionel Grant, Fort Benning Army Emergency Relief officer, said, “Come and see us. We’re here to help.”
For more information about the program and getting assistance, call 706-545-4043 or 706-545-7517.