FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Army is often referred to as a Family, and post officials challenged Soldiers to aid their fellow Family members during the Army Emergency Relief campaign kickoff ceremony.

The March 8 event at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum began the annual campaign that runs through May 15.

"This event marks the beginning of a campaign organized for the sole purpose of providing awareness of Soldiers in need and to those Soldiers who are willing to help them out," said Capt. Justin Barnes, AER campaign coordinator. "Helping another person in the Army is helping the Army as a whole. It builds unit cohesion."

AER is a private, nonprofit organization incorporated in 1942 by the Secretary of War and the Army Chief of Staff, according to information on the campaign's Web site, AER funds are made available to commanders to provide emergency financial assistance to active-duty and retired Soldiers and their Families. Funds are not limited and are distributed on a need-basis through grants, loans and scholarships.

Through these actions, AER falls in line with core Soldier values, described in a brief video shown to kickoff attendees.

"Just as our Warrior Ethos describes we will never leave a fallen comrade, we will never leave a Family," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston during the video presentation.

Sgt. Marcus Doshier, a B Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment member, shared his story of how AER rescued his Family. In 2007, his sister-in-law was killed suddenly, and Doshier and his wife gained custody of her three children. Between extra living costs, travel and other situations, the Family was unable to pay for basic necessities. AER offered the sergeant a grant to assist with food costs and later a loan to prevent car repossession. Doshier expressed his gratitude and hoped his success story encouraged others to give to AER.

"Now we're in a lot better place than we were. Without AER we would have been buried. I wouldn't have known what to do," he said.

Soldiers helping Soldiers is the heart of AER, according to retired Col. Sonny Moore, who attended Monday's ceremony.

"That's the way it ought to be. Everyone should do their part," he said. "It's the right thing to do. There (are) all kinds of opportunities around post. Fort Rucker has always risen to the challenge."

Garrison Commander Col. Yvette Kelley noted $1.25 billion has been given Army-wide to active-duty, National Guard, Reserve and retired servicemembers and Families since AER's inception.

"AER's success bears witness to the overwhelmingly generous nature of our community," she said. "In recent times of economic (trouble) this inherent generosity has not faltered. Soldiers continue to look past their own needs and lend a hand to others."

Last year, more than 400 Fort Rucker Families received assistance, Kelley said. Worldwide, more than one-tenth of active-duty Soldiers were assisted, totaling about $72 million.

Those wishing to donate may contact unit service coordinators or visit the AER Web site, according to Sharon Coley, Army Community Service Financial Readiness Program manager.

Other opportunities to raise AER funds include the 20th annual Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union Golf Tournament April 23 at Silver Wings Golf Course, said Lisa Hales, AACFCU vice president of marketing. Registration begins at 10 a.m. that day with a shotgun start at noon. Cost is $50 for SWGC members and $60 for non-members.

For more tournament information, call Hales at 598-4411, ext. 1307.

Military police also host their annual AER Jail-A-Thon May 7 in the Post Exchange parking lot, according to Coley. Individuals may "lock up" co-workers and friends for donations throughout the day. Last year's event raised more than $4,200 toward the campaign.

For more information, call the MPs at 255-2222.