FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- When Staff Sgt. Caroline Telles, a drill sergeant with the 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, found herself in financial hardship after dealing with overpayment issues, she turned to her command team for help.

"Thanksgiving was about a week away, and I had no clue what I was going to do. I had completely run out of emergency funds while the finance office was still working my issue," said Telles, who at the time was a single mother of two small children.

She said her feelings of hopelessness and embarrassment soon were lifted after her commander referred her to the Army Emergency Relief program. Telles talked to a consultant with the program and received the help she needed.

"I was worried that she was going to judge me, being a mid-career Soldier. But she didn't hesitate. She didn't judge me, she just took me in (and let me know that) everything is going to be OK."

Telles was one of three Soldiers who shared their experiences with AER during Fort Jackson's kickoff event for the 70th annual AER fundraising campaign, which runs through May 15.

The ceremony, which took place at the Joe E. Mann Center, March 1, also featured a video presentation, a slide show relaying important facts about AER and an address by Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson's commanding general.

Milano said he considers AER a significant program and that he has contributed to the campaign throughout his entire career in the Army.

"I think this is an extremely worthwhile program. It's a good campaign," Milano said. "And it's a way for professionals, quite frankly, to contribute and help the profession that they're a part of."

Throughout the campaign, AER is collecting donations from members of the Army community. The donations are tax deductible.

In 2011, Fort Jackson has contributed roughly $270,000 to the campaign. More than 730 Fort Jackson Soldiers and their families received assistance that year, which amounted to about $900,000.

AER helps with emergency financial needs by offering interest-free loans or grants. In addition, AER provides college scholarships to children, spouses and surviving spouses of Soldiers. The help is available to Soldiers (active duty, National Guard and Reserves), Army retirees and surviving spouses or orphans of Soldiers.

Retired Sgt. Byron McNeil has used the program both while in the Army and after his retirement in 2009. He said his family has also taken advantage of the scholarship program, resulting in his daughter now studying to become a lawyer. He praised the AER staff members for their assistance.

"They have been a big help, a great blessing to all the Soldiers," McNeil said.

Spc. Emily Bacon, 4th Battalion, 10th Infantry Regiment, said help from AER has allowed her to fly home during a family emergency. "What a great sense of relief to know that such a great program exists," Bacon said.

She said she makes sure that every Soldier with whom she comes in contact finds out about how AER can help in case of a crisis.

Milano said that spreading the word about AER is important.

"The campaign is about awareness," he said. "It's about contacting everybody, and I'm counting on you commanders and command sergeants major and the leaders here ... to put the word out.

Last year, AER has added four additional categories for help. Soldiers can now get assistance for family member dental care, basic furniture needs, rental vehicles and replacement vehicles.

To contribute to the AER campaign and for more information, contact your unit representative, call 751-9119 or visit