KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany – The annual Army Emergency Relief campaign runs now through May 15, and U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz is committed to helping Soldiers in need.
Since its inception in 1942, AER has provided nearly $2 billion in assistance to Soldiers and family members in the form of interest-free loans, grants and scholarships.
“There’s nothing like this outside of the military,” said USAG RP Army Emergency Relief Officer J. Paul Collins, Jr. “This program is for Soldiers, by Soldiers. We’re helping each other. We’re making sure Soldiers don’t have to worry about their finances so they can do their jobs.”
There are 30 categories of assistance a Soldier can apply for, including but not limited to emergency travel, funeral expenses, vehicle repairs, minor home repairs, medical or dental expenses, rent, utilities, personal needs when pay is delayed, and more.
Collins, a retired Army first sergeant, said AER came to his assistance twice during his 27 years of military service. The first time, he was in Advanced Individual Training and had an issue with his paycheck not coming through.
“I went crying to the drill sergeant saying, ‘I don’t know what to do – my spouse is back home, we have to pay rent, we have to pay for utilities and food.’ He just smiled at me and said, ‘There’s something called AER I want to share with you.’ By the end of the day I had a paycheck,” Collins recounted.
The second time he used AER was in the event of his mother’s passing when he was a staff sergeant.
“Not only did AER help me, they gave me a grant to pay for plane tickets home and back to allow me to be there when my mother was buried,” Collins said. “If nothing else, that hit my heart and that’s why AER is my charity of choice – I’m paying back what I see as graciousness from an organization that, frankly, is nowhere else. Nobody else is going to care about me like that.”
The goal of the 2020 AER campaign is 23% participation from the community, but Collins said it’s more than just a fundraiser – it’s also about raising awareness, and he wants 100% of Soldiers to know about AER.
“As important as fundraising – or even more important – is educating and informing Soldiers and leaders that we’re here and this is what we’re here to do,” Collins said.
Not only does the AER program provide emergency relief, it can also provide Soldiers a path to financial health by working hand-in-hand with the Army Community Service financial counselors.
“We’re one of the few organizations that doesn’t want repeat customers – if we have repeat business, there’s an issue,” Collins explained. “We’re here to help with all kinds of emergencies, but it’s all about getting Soldiers on a path of financial readiness.”
Tina Mann, a financial readiness specialist with ACS, said the AER program also helps surviving family members in the form of grants.
“You never know, your donation could be helping a survivor who lost their spouse,” Mann said. “This program is helping Soldiers, family members, retirees, survivors, wounded warriors – we’re looking at this whole population of people. You just never know if you may need AER for something.”
The 2019 AER campaign raised $57,737 in Rheinland-Pfalz. During the same year, the program approved 230 applications for a total of $269,745 in the community. In short, the program is pushing out more assistance than it is getting.
Collins said donating can be as simple as a $5 allotment.
“If somebody donates $5 for 12 months – totaling $60 – that’s one cup of coffee or a few energy drinks that they probably would’ve spent anyway,” he said.
“We owe it to ourselves and to our service members to make sure this program sticks around,” he concluded.
“AER is a cause seven decades old that helps Soldiers at every turn with unexpected health care expenses, emergency travel, funeral expenses and so much more,” said USAG RP Commander Col. Jason Edwards. “I challenge you to see if contributing to AER is within your means and, if so, give whatever you can to this worthy and noble effort to help Soldiers when they are in need.