Payday loans. Title loans. Interest rates, galore. These are only some of the many financial entrapments plaguing service members and their families across numerous military installations.
Army Emergency Relief (AER), on the other hand, is dedicated to helping Soldiers avoid unnecessary, high-interest financial drawbacks by providing zero-interest loans, grants, and educational scholarships, to also include their family members.
Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Raymond Mason, who serves as the director of AER, is on a mission to educate Soldiers about the benefits of the nonprofit organization and change the shame of reaching out to ask for help. He recently met with AER representatives, financial counselors, senior leaders, Soldiers and family members, as part of multiple sessions during a visit to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
“Asking for help is a sign of strength,” said Mason. “There is unfortunately a stigma attached to asking for financial help, but life understandably happens. We encourage Soldiers to donate who are able, in order to maintain that special bond of never leaving behind a comrade.”
Mason led eye-opening forums about AER with the JBLM Army community, facilitating engaging discussions with junior service members, all the way up to commanders and their family members.
“Predatory lenders love to situate themselves right outside military installation gates,” said Mason. “Take car title loans, for example. The annual percentage rate on a car title loan can go well over 300%. If a Soldier ignores the fine print and defaults on that loan, and you factor in late fees, the amount will just spiral out of control.”
Family emergencies, car repairs, and child safety seats are only some of the many reasons why Soldiers utilize AER, according to Mason. His conversations delved deep into why Soldiers hesitate to reach out for help, leading to participants openly sharing opinions along with Mason’s input.
“AER never charges an interest rate,” said Mason. “We offer loans, grants, and a combination of both. Sometimes Soldiers make poor decisions, while other times, life may bring along unexpected hurdles.”
When asked what makes a strong AER campaign, Mason elaborated.
“I think a strong AER campaign revolves around spreading the word, which is why I spend time visiting Army installations,” said Mason. “We want Soldiers to know who we are, while only encouraging them to donate. The amount does not matter. All we want is for Soldiers to never lose that special bond that comes with serving alongside their fellow comrades.”
Mason ended his sessions by relating to his own military career, explaining why he continues to serve Soldiers after retiring.
“I love the Army,” said Mason. “I have been around the Army my whole life. This is just my way of giving back for all the military has afforded me and my family.”
For more information about AER, or to donate, please visit www.ArmyEmergencyRelief.org