FORT BENNING, Ga. -- Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, director of Army Emergency Relief and a Medal of Honor recipient, traveled to Fort Benning Friday to kick off the installation's fundraising campaign and talk about the program.

Since 1942, the nonprofit organization's mission has been to take care of Soldiers by providing interest-free loans and grants to active-duty Soldiers and their Families, retirees and surviving spouses and orphans.

Last year, the Fort Benning community contributed $250,000 to the agency, but AER officers distributed $2.9 million here to help with emergency financial needs. Armywide, AER provided $77.5 million in assistance to more than 64,000 Soldiers and their Families.

"What (AER does) for thousands and thousands of Soldiers is pretty fantastic," said Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Benning commander.

Nearly 90 percent is given as interest-free loans and the other 10 percent as grants, Foley said. AER just instituted a new program for severely disabled Soldiers to allow them to call for assistance.

"They don't need to travel to get help," Foley said. "We've sent letters to 10,000 wounded warriors. They can call and we will mail them the money."

AER's challenge, Foley said, is awareness.

"Why is it Soldiers use payday lenders, pawn shops and title loans instead of AER?" he asked.

Commanders need to encourage Soldiers to use AER, Foley said. AER has the funds to put into the hands of Soldiers.

"It's in the best interest of the Soldier," Foley said, "and in the best interest of the Army."

There is no limit on the amount or the number of times Soldiers can ask for help, he said.

George Steuber, deputy garrison commander, spoke of firsthand knowledge.

"Forty-six years ago as a PFC, $123 a month wasn't enough to get me to Minnesota when there was a death in the Family. AER helped with emergency travel," he said.

Although there is no monetary goal during the campaign, Brown said he wants 100 percent contact so Soldiers know about AER and can contribute if they choose to.

What is it?
Nonprofit organization incorporated in 1942 by the Secretary of War and the Army chief of staff. AER's mission is to provide emergency financial assistance to Soldiers and their Families.

Who can use it?
• Active-duty Soldiers, single or married, and their Family members
• Members of the Army National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserve on continuous active duty for more than 30 days and their Family members. (Title 10, United States Code).
• Soldiers retired from active duty because of longevity or physical disability, or retired upon reaching age 60 (Army National Guard or Army Reserve) and their Family members.
Surviving spouses and orphans of Soldiers who died while on active duty or after they retired.

How AER can help?
Help with emergency financial needs for:
• Food, rent or utilities
• Emergency transportation and vehicle repair
• Funeral expenses
• Medical and dental expenses
• Personal needs when pay is delayed or stolen
• Give undergraduate-level education scholarships, based primarily on financial need, to children, spouses and surviving of Soldiers

How to contribute?
Directorates and units have designated "key persons" to provide information and contribution forms. Soldiers and retirees can contribute with cash, check or allotment. Civilians can donate with cash or check.

Check out the AER video on YouTube at