PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Picatinny officials kicked off the installation's 2011 Army Emergency Relief Campaign with a Chili Cook-off here March 1.

"This campaign promotes awareness of AER benefits and programs that are available to active-duty Soldiers, retirees, widows and family members," said Picatinny Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Herb Koehler.

"The program provides emergency financial assistance in the form of no-interest loans or outright grants. In addition to emergency assistance, AER provides scholarships to children and spouses of active duty and retired Soldiers, financial support to surviving families of fallen Soldiers, and grants to widows and Wounded Warriors," he added.

The 2011 AER season began as 16 pots were entered in the chili cook-off at the Cannon Gates Catering and Conference Center today, raising $1,040. Contestants were judged by both a panel of judges and by a popular vote.

Judges rendered "Gracie" the winning pot of chili, made by John Hales of the New Jersey National Guard Family Assistance Center.

Taking second place in the popular vote was "Chaplain's Hell Fire and Damnation Chili," made by Picatinny's Chaplain, Major Kevin Doll. The first place popular vote went to "Cole's Sweet & Spicy Chicken Chili," by Edward "Ted" Cole, a Spider Munition Lead Engineer here.

Attendees were asked to make a $5 donation, which allowed them to taste all the entries and cast a ballot for their favorite chili.

Throughout the spring, AER officials will host other events such as raffles, a car wash and "Bagging for Bucks," an event where installation members volunteer to bag groceries at the commissary.

All tips received by the volunteer baggers are then donated to the AER campaign.

The largest event will be the third annual "Duck Derby" on May 25, where several thousand rubber yellow ducks float through the Green Pond Brook "rapids," and prizes are awarded for the fastest ducks.

In 2010, AER provided $69.7 million in assistance to more than 62,000 Soldiers and their families and distributed 861 grants for health and comfort items to medically evacuated Wounded Warriors. AER also granted $7.9 million in educational assistance to undergraduate students and provided scholarships to 3,170 children of Soldiers and 1,761 spouses of Soldiers.

Picatinny's 2010 AER campaign raised $67,604, and officials hope to exceed that goal this year.

Contributions can be made by allotment, cash or check.

Under AER's Command Referral Program, company commanders and first sergeants have the authority to approve AER loans to their Soldiers up to $1,000.
AER assistance is available to Soldiers and their families, wherever they are located and the amount of assistance is only limited by a valid need. Soldiers and their family members requiring AER assistance can contact their unit chain of command or go to their local installation AER office.

"At Picatinny, we fully support the AER Campaign because we see firsthand the relief the assistance provides to our Soldiers and their families when they are in a financial emergency. Anything we can do to help them get through tough times is the reason why we are here," said Tammy Mitchell, director of Picatinny's Army Community Service Directorate.

Based on reciprocal agreements, Soldiers and families not near an Army Installation AER office can seek assistance at an Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard base from the Air Force Aid Society, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, respectively, or from any of the local chapters of the American Red Cross throughout the U.S.

For more information about AER's assistance programs, or to make a contribution to Army Emergency Relief, contact Sheila Fredenberg at (973) 724-4180 or sheila.fredenberg@us.army.mil, or log onto the AER Web site at www.aerhq.org.