WIESBADEN, Germany - A traffic accident put Staff Sgt. Brian Jenkins in the hospital for nine weeks and demolished his car.

With money extremely tight due to the additional expenses, Jenkins fell behind on his rent and alimony. The bills started piling up quickly.

Just before borrowing money from a loan shark, Jenkins ran into his first sergeant and asked for his advice. The company's senior noncommissioned officer suggested he head to Army Community Service to seek financial assistance through Army Emergency Relief.

Jenkins' story, like tens of thousands of Soldiers, retirees and family members before him, had a happy ending. AER quickly sprang into action to provide a financial cushion in the form of an interest-free loan to help the Soldier in need get back on his feet.

During this year's AER fundraising campaign, which runs through May 15, Soldiers are asked to once again "help the Army take care of its own" by giving generously.

"AER is a very important program for Soldiers, their families and retirees," said Dr. Robert Schloesser, director of the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden's Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation. "It's always supported by Soldiers. It doesn't get any Congressional funding. It's us taking care of each other."

Schloesser, a retired Army officer who served two tours in Vietnam, described the history of the program which helps Soldiers, survivors, families and retirees in the form of grants, scholarships and no-interest loans.

"Since its inception in 1942, AER has provided $1.2 billion in assistance. It is a very generous program," he said, explaining that the nonprofit organization was chartered during World War II by the Secretary of War to assist the "hundreds of thousands of Americans stepping up to the bat to join the Army."

Leary Henry, USAG Wiesbaden's AER officer, thanked everyone for their contributions last year - donating $57,000 - "the most in U.S. Army Europe."

"AER helps you in the same day," said Schloesser, pointing out that almost everyone has experienced the frustration of trying to resolve a pay issue and coming up short at least once in his or her career.

"The challenge for us is to do our duty," said Schloesser. "The ball rests with every unit. ... I equate what we're doing today as taking care of your buddy.

"The bottom line is - contributions drive the train of AER," he added.

For more information on contributing to AER, contact your local unit AER key person or visit www.aerhq.org. For information on the program call mil 485-8188 in Baumholder or 335-5254 in Wiesbaden.