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Soldiers helping Soldiers: Army Emergency Relief kicks off fundraising campaign

Fort Rucker and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence senior leaders sign a pledge and donate to Army Emergency Relief during the campaign kickoff event at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum March 2. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Fort Rucker and U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence senior leaders sign a pledge and donate to Army Emergency Relief during the campaign kickoff event at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum March 2. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: March 10, 2016

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 10, 2016) -- The agency built on the principle of Soldiers taking care of Soldiers kicked off its fundraising campaign season at Fort Rucker March 2.

The 2016 Army Emergency Relief campaign officially started with a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, with officials communicating this year’s theme – “Never Leave a Soldier in Need.”

Fort Rucker senior leaders also signed a pledge and were the first to donate to the cause.

“Your attendance today not only demonstrates your commitment and your devotion, but it truly shows what it means to take care of our fellow Soldiers and their families,” said Col. Shannon T. Miller, Fort Rucker garrison commander and AER chairman. “The primary goal of the AER campaign this year is to ensure that 100 percent of our Soldiers receive training, so that they can tell the story of AER to our fellow Soldiers.

“AER is not an Army-funded program, but a nonprofit organization based on Soldiers helping Soldiers,” continued the colonel. “It provides a means for those in basic financial hardships to obtain no-interest loans or, in some cases, grants to help with unanticipated expenses. The only way we are going to be able to accomplish this endeavor this year is by ensuring that 100 percent of our Soldiers are given that opportunity to contribute to this program.”

During the kickoff event, a video was shown that told the stories of numerous Soldiers and families who were saved from hardship through AER’s efforts, and Col. Allan M. Pepin, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence chief of staff, said that people should take those stories to heart.

“Think about all these stories,” he said. “If any of those Soldiers decided to not use AER and went to an off-post establishment that has ridiculous interest rates, they might have been in some real trouble.

“Some of our Soldiers, unknowingly, go out to these places. And when they sign those papers, they get hit with 30-percent, 50-percent and even sometimes 150-percent interest on a loan,” said Pepin. “Before they know it, whatever got them into that crisis to begin with is now much worse.”

AER provides interest-free loans to Soldiers, retirees and family members who are going through financial hardships, but many have forgotten that the program is available to them, and that’s why the chief of staff said a bit of education is in order.

“As we continue to educate our Soldiers, we can help maintain our readiness,” he said. “For every one of those Soldiers in that video, if they had not gotten the help, there’s a good chance that they would have gotten out of the Army. Financial hardships tend to lead to other bad things and Soldiers tend to make hasty decisions and can get overwhelmed.”

Pepin shared his own experience where he saw, firsthand, how AER was able to help a fellow Soldier who was in need.

He told of a Soldier who was finishing his tour of duty and was ready to separate from the Army, but as a young company commander, Pepin said it was his job to try and convince the Soldier to stay. No matter what he told the Soldier about the benefits of staying in the Army, he wasn’t able to convince him to stay – his mind was made up.

“What I couldn’t have predicted was that not even two weeks later he would end up having a house fire that destroyed everything,” said the chief of staff. “We sent him to AER and they took care of him, and he became the best recruiter I ever had because he realized at that moment where he would be if the same event had happened a year later, outside of the Army.”

AER has been serving Soldiers and families for more than 70 years, and last year more than $71 million provided assistance to 48,000 Soldiers and families, said Pepin. Nine million dollars was spent in giving scholarships to over 4,000 spouses and children.

On Fort Rucker, nearly 200 Soldiers received over $270,000 in assistance, $50,000 of which was in grants.

Despite all of the efforts, however, Pepin said more needs to be done.

“Last year, only 12 percent of active-duty Soldiers Army wide donated to AER,” he said. “That’s a pretty concerning percentage. We’ve got to do a better job. We can educate ourselves to make a logical choice that benefits those in the Army. Through education, I think we can get the numbers to go up.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/163991/

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