CONTINGENCY OPERATING LOCATION SPEICHER, Iraq -- In tough economic times, Soldiers can be blindsided by unexpected medical and dental expenses, emergency transportation, money for school, or the most unexpected - funeral expenses - for which they are not financially prepared.

The Army Emergency Relief has helped Soldiers in these situations since 1942 when the organization was incorporated. As the Army's own emergency financial assistance non-profit organization, it helps Solders and their families through interest-free loans, grants and scholarships for school.

Some leaders have seen their Soldiers benefit from this help in a time of need.

Sgt. Maj. Charles L. Friend, the chief signal noncommissioned officer for 3rd Signal Company, Division Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, has seen the positive effects the program has had on Soldiers.

"Over the years, AER has helped Soldiers in all of the units I've been in," said Friend, who has seen his Soldiers benefit from grants, loans and scholarships. "These different ways have helped them to pay utilities, rent, funeral costs and repairs for the vehicles."

"When I was a first sergeant, the AER went out of its way to help my Soldiers when they really needed it. Some Soldiers received money the same day," continued Friend, whose children received the AER's Master Sgt. James Ursano Scholarship.

"The scholarship program has helped put my daughter through nursing school and my son is presently attending college," he said.

Sgt. Carrie Wali, a geospatial analyst for Headquarters Operations Company, DSTB, 3rd ID, was unaware of the possibilities AER had until a fellow Soldier and friend used it.

"I first became aware of AER in advanced individual training through a brief," she said. "I hadn't seen anyone use it until my good friend's baby passed away."

"She didn't have the money to bury him properly," she continued. "She had tried getting a loan through someone else, but it was an outrageous interest rate that she couldn't afford."

"Finally, the command stepped in and made her aware of the program," said Wali. "She could get an interest-free loan or grant. That advice really put her in the right direction. It was one less thing for her to worry about."

Being a non-profit organization, the AER requires donations to help Soldiers. Soldiers, who have seen or experienced the help AER can provide, enjoy participating.

"My husband and I contribute," said Wali. "I really feel like I'm helping out. You never know when you might need it. It's for the Soldiers, by the Soldiers."

Friend, who donates to AER every year when the campaign starts, says he contributes because AER helps Soldiers on a daily basis.

"Everyone might not need it, but if one of your Soldiers is in need of financial help, you know that there is an organization that is available and waiting to assist."