Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Fort Carson Mountaineer

AER kicks off 77th campaign

By Scott Prater

Mountaineer staff

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Soldiers and leaders from across the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson gathered at the Elkhorn Conference Center March 4, 2019, to kick off the annual Army Emergency Relief (AER) campaign.

For 77 years AER has been providing Soldiers and their Family members with financial assistance in the form of grants, interest-free loans and scholarships. The AER program was established Feb. 5, 1942, in the District of Columbia, with the purpose of relieving financial distress to Soldiers in the Army. Since that time, AER has added over 15 different financial categories where Soldiers and Family members can apply for assistance. The campaign theme for this year is “It’s What We Do.”

“We did a great job last year; it was one of our biggest donation years from our Soldier population,” said Frederick Lewis, AER director at Fort Carson. “So this year, the 77th AER campaign, our goal is (to) reach $150,000 in donations. We know we can exceed that.”

Rod Chisholm, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson deputy commander, said many times when Soldiers and Families visit the on-post Army Community Service, it’s for financial readiness reasons.

“We’re fortunate to be able to direct Soldiers and Families to the AER program and help them deal with whatever financial challenge they may be facing as a Family,” he said. “It’s so much better to have an organization like AER serving our Families because if we didn’t have it, Families would be forced to go downtown to find financial help. Of course, many of those loans downtown are issued at high interest rates and not necessarily with the compassion that AER can provide.”

In past years, campaign kickoff attendees expected to hear a plea from AER leaders about the importance of collecting donations for the program, but keynote speaker and AER director, Retired Lt. Gen. Ray V. Mason, delivered something different March 4, 2019.

“I’m not here to talk about donations,” he said. “Donations are important because we don’t receive federal funding, but I think it’s more important to talk about what AER does here at Fort Carson. Last year, AER provided over $280,000 in scholarships for spouses and kids at Fort Carson. And, the program didn’t provide those scholarships, we at AER are merely a conduit. Soldiers provided those funds.”

AER assists Soldiers and Families financially through interest-free loans, grants and scholarships when monetary needs arise, and also provides budgeting and financial counseling.

Since its inception in 1942, AER has provided more than $1.8 billion in financial assistance to 3.7 million Soldiers and their Families; or an average of more than $61 million to more than 40,000 Soldiers and their Families each year.

“In the past, our goal (during this campaign) was to have 100 percent contact with Soldiers,” Mason said. “But, there’s little value in that. My challenge to leaders is this: the stuff we talk about today needs to be taken back to units. It’s what we do. Sitting down and talking to Soldiers about AER, that has value. I’m convinced that if a Soldier knows about AER, what we do and what our mission is, they’ll donate.”

The organization made several changes to its program guidelines for this year: expanded assistance on dental care for dependents, added grants for cranial helmets and children’s car seats, raised the cap on funerals for dependent spouses and added new grant assistance for passports and special medical needs equipment.

Active-duty Soldiers and their Families, retired Soldiers, medically retired Soldiers and National Guard and Reserves Soldiers who are on active-duty status are eligible to receive AER funds.

The annual AER campaign runs through May 15. Donations are tax deductible and can be made online at https://www.aerhq.org/, or by contacting an AER unit project officer.

AER kicks off 77th campaign
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