FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Fort Rucker ended its annual Army Emergency Relief campaign during a ceremony June 15 in The Landing as officials recognized campaign standouts and revealed the campaign raised more than $100,000 for the charity that helps Soldiers help Soldiers.
Campaign leaders thanked the many unit coordinators and the campaign staff who helped ensure 100% of Fort Rucker Soldiers were aware of the benefits available to them through AER, said Beth Gunter, outgoing Army Community Service AER financial counselor whose duties are being assumed by Jo Close.
“The No. 1 goal of the AER campaign is to increase Soldiers’ awareness about the benefits of the AER program,” she said. “Unit coordinators conducted training to ensure over 2,300 personnel and 2,100 students are aware of the benefits available to them when experiencing financial issues.”
The three-person campaign team, made up of CW4 James N. Bueby, Fort Rucker AER campaign manager, and two assistant coordinators, SSgt. Ian Van Harper and SSgt. Ramone Diaz-Rondon took on the responsibility to ensure the unit coordinators were trained, and received the resources and support they needed to complete their mission, she added.
“The AER mantra, Soldiers helping Soldiers, was seen throughout this year’s campaign,” Gunter said, adding that despite manpower shortages and challenges with the new AER software, the team remained fully committed to the mission and to AER. “For the past 3 ½ months, their support and hard work played a vital role in the success of the AER program and helping to ensure it will be there for generations to come.”
Fort Rucker officials also thanked All In Credit Union whose 30th annual golf tournament benefitting AER raised $30,000 for the charity, about twice its normal amount.
Col. Chad Chasteen, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff, spoke at closing ceremony about how AER has helped Soldiers through unforeseen financial emergencies, including a private suffering vehicle trouble on his way to Fort Rucker for advanced individual training last year.
“He rented a vehicle with what little savings he had in order to meet his report time while his family stayed in a hotel and the vehicle was repaired out of state,” Chasteen said. “If you have ever been a private, which I was back in 1988, or if you’ve ever had car troubles, which I had last week, or if you have had a family, or all of the above, you can imaging his stress.
“When leadership within his unit was made aware of the situation, they immediately sent him to AER for assistance,” he continued. “The Soldier was provided with the funds necessary to get his vehicle back home and to drive on training.”
He also spoke about past experiences where AER helped Soldiers under his command.
“If you have been in the Army for a while, you probably have your own AER story. I have one,” he said. “Eight years ago as a battalion commander, I personally witnessed AER make a powerful impact on a unit and a family. While stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, one of my Soldiers experienced a traumatic event with life-threatening consequences. In the middle of the night a few short days before Christmas while the family was sleeping, their home on post caught fire.”
The older, historic home went up quickly, and the Soldier was able to get his spouse and two children to their rally point unharmed, the colonel added.
“They stood on their lawn in their pajamas as flames burst out of windows,” Chasteen said. “Then help came in waves. First, came firefighters and neighbors and unit members and the chain of command – myself included. They were followed quickly by AER, who provided immediate funds for a family in need. That family is still serving today. I am proud that AER was there to help within hours of a tragic event. The outpouring of community support combined with a rapid inject of financial resources enabled that family to recover and rebuild.”
AER’s secondary mission is to provide scholarships, based on financial need, for the children, spouses, orphans and widows of active-duty and retired Soldiers, he said, adding that within the Wiregrass area, 10 spouses and 78 children benefited from more than $370,000 in scholarship assistance during the last school year.
“As a community, Fort Rucker contributed over $100,000 – that seems a lot, but actually it’s less than last year,” he said. “There are thousands of charities out there, but there is only one that is truly committed to helping the Soldiers of the U.S. Army, our Soldiers. We can do a lot if we all give a little.”