Fort Leonard Wood’s 2023 AER donation campaign is Army’s best

By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeJune 29, 2023

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The 2023 Army Emergency Relief donation campaign here exceeded both Fort Leonard Wood’s and the Army’s goals, finishing in the top spot across the Army for medium-sized installations.

But that wasn’t all, according to Fort Leonard Wood AER Officer Chuck Matthews.

With nearly $300,000 raised and 65 percent of the population here donating, Matthews said Fort Leonard Wood was also No. 1 in the Army for the greatest number of Soldiers donating, highest percentage of Soldiers donating, highest dollar amount raised — at $297,775 — and highest-average Soldier donation, with $36.69 per Soldier here and $56.41 per donation received.

Earlier this year, Matthews said the Army set a goal to see at least 25 percent of Soldiers donating to the campaign, which is run each year to fill the coffers of the Army’s official nonprofit — AER has been financially assisting Soldiers in need with interest-free loans and grants since its inception in 1942, and to date, has provided about $2 billion to some 4 million Soldiers and their families.

Matthews said Fort Leonard Wood set its own goal of seeing 50 percent of the population here donating, piggybacking on successful campaigns in recent years — Fort Leonard Wood was No. 1 in the Army in 2022, for the number of Soldiers donating and dollar amount raised, and in 2021, the central-Missouri installation’s campaign was named No. 1 in the Army for medium-sized installations.

“It is important to support AER because AER supports and assists 40,000 Soldiers worldwide each year with approximately $50 million,” Matthews said, noting locally, 680 Soldiers received AER assistance in 2022, to the tune of $796,500 — and Matthews and his team are on pace to exceed those numbers so far this year. “Without replenishing funds each campaign, AER would not be able to continue supporting Soldiers at these levels.”

In addition to assisting Soldiers and their families, AER provides help to thousands of area retirees, Matthews said.

Between 2020 and 2023, for example, Matthews noted 125 retirees in the Fort Leonard Wood community were provided a total of $291,056 in grants or interest-free loans for needs including rent and mortgage payments, vehicle costs, utilities and food.

Army wide, those numbers jump to 4,120 retirees and more than $9 million over that same time period.

Matthews pointed to this year’s campaign volunteer coordinators — Capt. Paul Moody and Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Proctor — as two key reasons for Fort Leonard Wood’s success.

“Our two campaign Soldiers were dedicated to the campaign — and to exceeding the goal,” Matthews said. “They worked hard and smart in coordinating with units, briefing companies and Soldiers to ensure awareness of the benefits of AER, and to encourage competition among units.”

Matthews also highlighted some of the highest-donating units this year, to include Company A, 787th Military Police Battalion, the unit with the highest-average donation rate — the Soldiers of Alpha Company averaged $133.96 per donation. Company D, 31st Engineer Battalion, was second, with $111.02 per donation. The 31st Engineers ended up donating the most total of any battalion here, with $45,120, and the 58th Transportation Battalion had the highest Soldier donation rate, with 92.3 percent.

One individual who helped set the example of Soldiers helping Soldiers here was Spc. Marie Mosher, who graduated from MP one station unit training June 1, with Alpha Company, 787.

Though Mosher has returned home to Boston — she enlisted in the Massachusetts National Guard and hopes to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps as a civilian police officer as well in her home state — she said contributing to Fort Leonard Wood’s campaign was a no brainer.

“I like helping people out — if I was down to my last dollar, I’d give that out as well; I’m just that kind of person,” she said. “I knew (AER) helped military people who couldn’t afford things and helped them not have to worry. I donate to a lot of other things, so I thought I would donate to that as well.”

How Soldiers are briefed about AER is important to conducting a campaign worthy of being called the Army’s best, Matthews said.

“Primarily, we try to explain what AER does for Soldiers, how many Soldiers we help and how much money we give out at Fort Leonard Wood,” he said. “We also try to explain how easy it is to ask for AER help, and why AER is a worthy charity for them to donate to. We also had four Soldiers in training units that AER had helped, and they spoke to their fellow Soldiers about AER, and why they are donating back to AER to help others. This encouraged those units to have nearly 100-percent donation rates.”

Moody said the successful strategy he and Proctor devised included “leveraging technology and fostering unit engagement.”

“We recognized the importance of utilizing various communication channels to reach a wide audience,” said Moody, the deputy chief information officer at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, when he’s not running a successful AER campaign. “Through the implementation of a QR code that linked directly to the donation page, we provided a convenient and accessible method for Soldiers — both permanent party and trainees — to contribute. This technology proved particularly effective in situations where Wi-Fi access was limited, ensuring that no one was left out of the opportunity to support AER.”

Additionally, Moody said they emphasized the significance of unit involvement and support.

“Our overarching goal was to create a cohesive and comprehensive campaign that left no stone unturned,” he said. “We wanted to ensure that every Soldier at Fort Leonard Wood had the chance to understand the vital role AER plays in supporting our military community. By utilizing technology, fostering unit support and maximizing our communication efforts, we were able to effectively spread the message of AER and encourage widespread participation.”

Matthews said it all comes down to making Soldiers aware of AER and “what we can do to help them in time of need.”

“Raising money for AER is good and necessary, but second to AER awareness,” he said.

Call 573.596.2595 or 0212 to make an AER donation. To request AER assistance, call 573.596.3154. More information on AER is available on their website.