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FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker kicked off its annual Army Emergency Relief Awareness Campaign March 1 without the usual fanfare of an opening ceremony, courtesy of the ongoing pandemic.

But that doesn’t mean there will be any less effort put into educating people on the program that helps Soldiers help Soldiers, according to CW4 James N. Bueby, Fort Rucker AER campaign manager.

“The pandemic has obviously created a few curve balls, but we are tearing down those barriers as safely as possible,” Bueby said. “If someone wishes to donate, then hopefully they have been approached by a unit coordinator who can personally walk them through the process. If they haven’t, then people can simply go to https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/donate/ to donate electronically.”

The campaign manager added that the AER website can also answer most questions a person might have about the program.

The annual campaign doesn’t set a monetary amount as a goal – although Bueby admits that the more that is raised the more that is available to help Soldiers, family members and retirees – but instead seeks to ensure all Soldiers know about the program and how beneficial AER can be to them.

“We don’t necessarily care about a specific dollar amount – we focus on getting folks trained on how beneficial it is for Soldiers to help other Soldiers,” he said. “How easy is it to buy a fellow Soldier a cup of coffee or something from the snack bar? We do it every day, so why not simply donate something similar to a program that Soldiers rely on each and every day when confronted with a financial crisis?”

A Soldier being confronted by a financial crisis is something Jo Anne Close, Fort Rucker Army Community Service financial counselor, sees on a regular basis, and AER should be the first place eligible people think of to seek assistance, she said.

“There are many situations that can overwhelm a Soldier where they might not see a light at the end of the tunnel,” Close said. “Like if a Soldier has to go on emergency leave, but does not have the means to pay for travel to return home. In this case, the Soldier may already be stressed to the max trying to figure out the 5 Ws for this emergency: how to get home, when to travel, what happened, where to stay, who is traveling and then add the financing of the travel on top of that.

“AER assistance can provide some of that stress relief – this can be monumental for that Soldier,” she added. “Or if a young Soldier couple just got married and are trying to provide furniture for their family, being brand new to the military they may have the misconception that the military provides one with everything they need – this is simply not true. An AER 0%-interest loan can assist the new couple with essential furniture, thus preventing the couple from going into a financial hardship because they decided to go with a high-interest rate loan.”

Many people might be surprised at what qualifies a Soldier for AER assistance through a 0%-interest loan or debt-free grant, and the process for getting that help is a simple, easy and quick process, Bueby said.

“There are quick-assist options that each commander and first sergeant have at their disposal that can get Soldiers up to $2,000 of immediate assistance,” he said. “If they aren’t comfortable with going to their command team, which they should be, then they can simply walk into the AER office or call ahead, so we can inform the Soldier of the necessary items they need to bring with them.

“Being a crusty senior pilot, I was shocked to see how much assistance is provided daily and just how quick the process is,” he added. “Usually folks are out in less than an hour with the financial assistance they need. Even when the sum of assistance that is needed is at such a high amount, the loop is still generally closed in a few hours.

“The bottom line – if you need assistance, come to AER because the staff here will try their hardest to get you the financial assistance you need, and if for some reason they can’t, at least they will help guide you to the best solution or other agencies that can help.”

AER doesn’t pull the funds necessary to help Soldiers out of thin air, though. It needs donations to work, and the program reports on its website that 90 cents of every dollar goes to providing assistance.

“The simplest form of why folks should consider donating is because they are donating to a foundation that could potentially assist them in the future, or one of their Soldiers, when confronted with an unexpected financial burden,” Bueby said. ““Soldiers are confronted with financial burdens every day, and we desperately want them to seek out assistance from AER before taking out a high-interest loan because, more often than not, AER can get Soldiers a 0%-loan or potentially a debt-free grant.”

While there may not have been a kickoff ceremony for the campaign, a closing ceremony is on the post calendar for June 8 at 11:30 a.m. at The Landing.

For more information on AER, call 255-9641 or visit https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org/.