FORT SILL, Oklahoma (March 11, 2021) -- The Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill kicked off its annual Army Emergency Relief (AER) campaign March 5 at the Main Exchange.
During the ceremony Fort Sill Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Blackwell signed his pledge form.
“Army Emergency Relief is all about Soldiers helping Soldiers, and that includes families and retired Soldiers,” Blackwell said. “It’s entirely by donations; there is no federal funding.”
Across the Army in 2020, AER loaned $50 million, and paid out $10 million in grants, Blackwell said.
Ken Lewis, Fort Sill Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program manager, and AER campaign director, said last year Fort Sill provided more than $400,000 in grants and loans.
Ninety cents out of every AER dollar goes directly to Soldiers, while the other 10 percent is for overhead, Lewis said. “That is a pretty darn good ratio for a charitable organization.”
“We could not do this without you. Soldiers are AER, whether active or retired,” Lewis said.
AER’s goal is to make 100 percent contact with Soldiers, Lewis said. A lot of Soldiers thought AER was put on hold because of the pandemic, but it was not. The campaign runs through May 15.
AER grants do not have to be paid back. Its loans are interest free and the payment schedule is tailored to the Soldier’s ability to pay, Lewis said. “AER does have a heart.”
There are about 30 categories approved for AER use, Lewis said.
One of those is emergency family leave involving an immediate family member, and that’s automatically a 50 percent grant, and sometimes 100 percent depending on the circumstances.
“AER is not a crutch, it will not affect your promotion or how you are perceived in the Army,” Lewis said. “It is a hand up, not a hand out.”
AER cannot be used to pay debts, he added.
One of AER’s offerings is the Quick Assist program, where first sergeants and commanders can approve up to $2,000 in assistance for their Soldiers, said Daniel Farrell, financial readiness specialist. “They know their Soldiers and their needs. The leaders are trusted to be part of the AER process.”
A new, online way to apply for AER is coming, Farrell said. It’s called Army Relief Made Simple, or ARMS, where Soldiers input their financial information as they apply for AER. It’s currently being piloted at three large installations, Lewis said.
And there is another AER program that confidentially provides for Soldiers without their commands getting involved in the process, Farrell said.
“Coming for assistance is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength,” Farrell said. Soldiers who come to AER will be much better off financially than those who go to a payday lender that charges high interest.
“Soldiers who are financially ready are mission ready,” Farrell said. “We want Soldiers to use the benefit of AER before they get into financial trouble.”