AER campaign time is here! Have you checked the box?

By Scott Gibson, Fort Leavenworth Garrison Public Affairs OfficerMay 1, 2024

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

One of the things about getting to the point in your career when your hair turns white is you have a pretty good perspective because you can see things from every angle.

You’ve checked a lot of boxes and that allows you to have some insight.

In my case, when people ask me, are you a veteran? I can say Yes.

Are you a former enlisted soldier? Yes.

Are you a former officer? Yes.

Are you a retiree? Yes.

Are you an Army Civilian Professional? Yes.

With the Army Emergency Relief Campaign currently underway, please allow me to provide some perspective from a person who checked a lot of boxes.

At publication time, the current status of the AER Campaign at Fort Leavenworth was at more than 53 percent of our goal to reach $50,000 earned for the local AER program, according to Army Community Service.

That seems pretty good, considering the campaign has been extended into June, right?

Well, peel the onion back and you’ll see a couple of concerns that jump right out.

First thing, the vast majority of our current donations come from our retiree community. That doesn’t really surprise me. Remember, I check that box. Our retirees in this area are particularly giving, and most of us likely have some type of AER story that we can look back on to fuel our positive feelings toward the program.

Here’s the rub. This program is built on the premise that soldiers can help soldiers. However, our active-duty participation in the Fort Leavenworth AER drive currently only accounts for less than 10 percent of our current monetary goals and are donated by less than 2 percent of our active-duty population.

We can do better.

If you don’t have your own AER experiences, perhaps mine will help sway you.

My enlisted-guy story is like many. Back in 19 blah, blah, blah… I was a brand-new graduate from Advanced Individual Training at the Defense Information School, then at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. I was very excited to go to my new duty station with orders to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, which offered plenty of on-post housing for my wife and two young sons. Life for Pfc. Gibson was looking great…

Then came graduation day and I was called into the orderly room and told my orders had changed. I was now heading to Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. No on-post housing was available anywhere near my duty station. Suddenly I found myself in a situation where I was going to move my family across the country to a place where housing costs were double what I was expecting, and I had to come up with first and last months’ rent, pay for gas to get back and forth … etc.

Enter Army Emergency Relief.

My sponsor quickly figured out that my young family was about to start our Army experience drowning in debt and took me to Army Community Service, where it was determined that my family qualified for an AER grant.

Life changing.

Instead of starting off in a massive hole of debt, I was able to get settled, my wife found a job, and we could get by. We were still living paycheck to paycheck, but at least we weren’t starting out completely upside down.

Now fast-forward about five years later to young 2nd Lt. Gibson, now with a wife and three kids in tow. Arriving at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, I was told that during my time at Officer Candidate School and subsequent courses afterward, there had been an administrative error, and I was paid too much. My leave and earnings statement upon arriving in Hawaii reflected “no pay due” just in time for setting up another new home in another high-cost area.

This time, I was eligible for an AER loan to help get me through the initial set-up costs.

Later, as a company commander, I saw numerous instances when soldiers needed a financial boost, often through no fault of their own. Deaths in the family, car troubles, unexpected expenses… life happens. And AER was there to support whenever it was needed.

So, here’s my call to action.

I know you have a lot of competing priorities for your philanthropy, but don’t forget the one that is set up for soldiers to help soldiers. Consider checking the box and giving a donation to Army Emergency Relief. Don’t wait until you are a retiree to help – your fellow teammates need help now.