FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Army Emergency Relief funds have helped Soldiers and Families overcome financial hardships for 80 years, and Fort Campbell is looking to raise $200,000 to support the nonprofit’s mission during this year’s annual AER campaign.
The installation hosted an AER kickoff ceremony Feb. 1 at division headquarters, and the contribution window for Soldiers and civilians will be open March 1-May 13.
Zero-interest loans and grants distributed through AER help cover necessary expenses from rent and utilities to food and vehicle repairs, and the program also provides scholarships for educational assistance.
While raising money to fund those resources is an important part of the AER campaign, the top priority is making sure Soldiers and Families know they can access them.
“The AER campaign is mostly about information,” said retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, AER Headquarters director. “What keeps me up at night is (the thought that) a Soldier is in trouble and we don’t know about it. We have to share this information over and over again.”
Command Sergeant Major Joseph Harbour, garrison senior enlisted adviser, said he has seen AER’s impact firsthand through his work with Soldiers across the division.
“AER is a critical lifeline when Soldiers and Families are most in need,” he said. “And obtaining assistance through AER can mean the difference between a short-term financial setback or a long-term and costly financial obligation.”
Harbour said the installation’s AER program approved more than 1,100 requests for assistance in 2021 and disbursed more than $1.9 million through loans and grants.
Since those loans and grants are provided at zero interest, Soldiers and Families are encouraged to make AER their first choice for financial support.
“Fifty percent of our Soldiers have used pay day loans,” Mason said. “And the reason is the stigma attached to finances. They don’t want anyone to know they’re having trouble. AER’s message is: don’t go outside the gate, come to us.”
Mason said choosing AER helps Soldiers avoid the high interest rates associated with pay day loans and improves mission readiness.
“If they are distracted by finances – can’t repair their car, can’t pay their rent, can’t put food on the table – they’re probably not focused on their MOS training,” he said. “They’re not focused on their unit mission, and if we send them into combat, they are potentially a danger to themselves and their buddies on their left and right.”
AER’s financial counselors also are dedicated to working with those Soldiers so they can take charge of their money and avoid future emergencies.
“That combination of helping that Soldier get out of what a tough spot they are (in) and then the following financial counseling is absolutely critical,” Mason said. “Resiliency is what this is about.”
Screaming Eagles play an important role in making sure those services are available for their fellow Soldiers, and Mason said AER’s goal is to keep them informed about what the program offers to encourage donations.
“Once you talk to a Soldier about that, they are then informed and they can make a decision about whether to donate,” he said. “Our creed is ‘leave no comrade behind.’ Most people think of that as the battlefield ... but it’s also true back here at home station.”
AER has become even more valuable for Soldiers and Families amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Terrence Jones, Fort Campbell Army Community Service-Financial Readiness Program manager.
The AER program recently expanded its eligible expenses to cover costs associated with the pandemic, such as transportation and remote learning assistance. Jones said local participation in the program has increased significantly over the last 18 months.
“I hope to see more participation and support throughout the installation from leaders and Soldiers this campaign cycle,” Jones said in a January interview with the Fort Campbell Courier. “People need this fund for things like overdue rent, car repairs and emergency leave, and so it’s important to have this fund and that Soldiers help one another. It keeps them from going off post to seek those high-interest loans.”
Harbour said unit leaders are a driving force for the installation’s AER contributions each year and asked them to make discussing the program with their Soldiers a priority.
“First, we must educate our Soldiers,” he said. “Use AER as a tool to support unit readiness; make AER the first choice when Soldiers need financial assistance ... the bottom line is, when we take care of our Soldiers at home our units can stay focused on their training and our Army will be ready to fight and win our nation’s wars.”
Soldiers and civilians can contribute to AER at https://www.armyemergencyrelief.org March 1-May 13 by setting up a one-time payment or monthly donation. Service members also can set up donations by going through their unit leaders.
For more information, call Army Community Service-Financial Readiness Program at 270-798-5518. Services are located at 1501 William C. Lee Road.