When a Fort Campbell Soldier recently lost his father, he turned to the only place where he knew he could get help quickly – through Army Emergency Relief.
“His parent was from another country,” said Command Sgt. Major Jason W. Osborne, garrison senior enlisted adviser. “His parent passed away and it was going to cost him about $10,000 in travel and burial fees in order to go home and bury his father. That young man, the only way he could get that kind of money in a timely manner was Army Emergency Relief. That’s just one way they can assist.”
Osborne and Col. Jeremy Bell, garrison commander, kicked off the 2020 AER Campaign Feb. 6 by telling a gathering of Soldiers, community leaders and commanders about the importance of donating to the campaign to help active-duty Soldiers and retirees when they face unexpected emergencies or just need a quick loan to deal with unexpected expenses.
“It’s good to see all of the command teams and other distinguished guests here as we kick off the Army Emergency Relief fundraising campaign,” Bell said. “AER is the Army’s official charity. At Fort Campbell, it rendered over $4 million in assistance – grants and loans – last year. We do better than most installations during this fundraising season and I hope we can keep that trend going this year.”
Bell said $145,705 was raised during last year’s campaign at Fort Campbell and the goal this year is to raise at least $200,000.
That money, donated by Soldiers, veterans and community leaders who want to help, is distributed to those who have real needs. Most are loans that are paid back, and some are grants to help with specific needs each year.
Helping Soldiers before problems become unmanageable, at the appropriate level, is key and the Army has tools to help, Bell said.
“This often means relying on the chain of command, and training and informing individuals on what is out there to help,” Bell said. “It also builds trust. When we can solve problems for our Soldiers, we as an Army build credibility and confidence that we look after our own.”
Donations can be made through regular paycheck withholdings or in single lump sums.
Representatives from each unit will begin training Feb. 13 to spread the word across post as the campaign begins. It runs through May 15.
AER, which is managed by the Army Community Service-Financial Readiness Program, assists active-duty Soldiers and their Families, as well as Reserve and National Guard Soldiers on continuous active duty for more than 30 days, retirees and Gold Star spouses.
Zero-interest loans through AER can keep Soldiers from going to other sources for high interest loans.
Predatory lenders can often charge such high interest that the problem snowballs, said Steve Stone, ACS financial specialist.
Bell said AER is there to help.
“AER is one of those tools that helps us solve Soldier and Family problems,” he said. “And it is a tool that absolutely requires chain of command support and emphasis.”
He pointed out many of the ways he has seen AER help, from providing Families with assistance for up to three months after arriving at a new post, helping purchase special needs medical equipment through grants, repairing or replacing vehicles, grants for passports and immigration fees for foreign spouses, relicensing and recertification assistance for spouses and more.
“When used appropriately, these and other services increase unit readiness,” Bell said. “When Soldiers don’t have to worry about their checks bouncing, creditors hunting them down or paying exorbitant interest rates with predatory lenders, the Soldier and the Family can focus on what is important.”
Last year, Fort Campbell AER had 3,840 cases and gave out $3.85 million in assistance in zero-interest loans and grants, Jones said.
Bell and Osborne urge participation in this year’s campaign.
“You look across the ranks every day of young men and women in formation,” Osborne said. “You never know what they are going through. You never know what problems might arise for them, whether it’s a car issue, whether it’s a home issue, whether it’s a Family issue.”
He pointed out that with so many retired military members living nearby, AER helps them too.
“2020’s theme is, ‘A hand up for Soldiers,’ but it’s more than just Soldiers,” Osborne said. “There are 65,000 retirees in and around our area, from the top of Kentucky, to Chattanooga to Memphis to Knoxville. Sixty-five thousand folks once in this uniform who are no longer in it and [may] require assistance. Those folks also use AER. So sometimes it’s not the immediate assistance you may be giving. It may be coming back to you later in life, so think about that as you give this season.”