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Installation celebrates 75th AER anniversary, kicks off 2017 campaign

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By GREG THOMPSON

Soldiers have a resource at their disposal for when they fall on difficult situations beyond their control and beyond their finances. Army Emergency Relief is in the business of helping the Army take care of its own. Soldiers helping Soldiers.

AER financial assistance is conducted within the Army structure by mission commanders and garrison commanders through AER Sections located at U.S. Army installations worldwide.

Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, AER director,
visited Fort Knox’s Saber & Quill March 9 to assist the installation in kicking
off its annual campaign.

As the organization’s newest director—taking the role
Jan. 1—Mason has visited several installations, educating officers and enlisted about the benefits of AER.

Having a little fun at the post where the movie “Stripes,” starring Bill Murray was filmed, Mason took the opportunity to throw out a portion of some of the lines from the film to play a little movie trivia before getting down to speaking about an organization he believes in wholeheartedly.

Knowing military personnel—while defending this nation at home and in other parts of the world—experience difficulties the same as everyone else he quoted a letter from a young student he found meaningful.

“If you are having a bad day remember that the most important thing in life is to be yourself,” Mason quoted from the letter. “Unless you can be Batman.”

That is a kid’s view of the world, he said.

Nothing, to the AER’s director, is more important that the mission of taking care of Soldiers.

The organization is now in its 75th year of providing financial assistance through interest-free loans, grants and scholarships to Soldiers and their Families around the world during peace and war.

Whether a Soldier is on emergency leave, in the hospital, coping with the loss of a loved one or some other crisis affecting his or her Family AER programs make an immediate positive difference.

Over the past 75 years AER has provided $1.8 billion to as many as 3.7 million Soldiers and their Families.

“AER is the Army,” said Mason. “This is the Army’s campaign. We are part of the Army. We are you—you are us. It is all one symbiotic team.”

He strongly emphasized AER is not a separate organization. Rather, it is directly connected to the Army and encouraged company commanders and first sergeants to “take their Soldiers and talk to them under the oak tree” about the organization.

Like the Army, the strength of AER comes from the support of its members. Donations, over the past four years, have decreased 30 percent.

Mason said in 2016, only 10 percent of the active duty community contributed to AER.

“Meaning, 90 percent did not
offer even a single dollar to the
campaign,” he said.

While Soldiers are not required to donate to AER as a requirement to be eligible for assistance Mason is encouraging officers to talk with their Soldiers about supporting the campaign.

AER offers assistance to Soldiers and their Families with rent or mortgage, vehicle repairs, utilities, medical expenses, home repairs, food, funeral expenses and other necessities.

“We’re in the business of saying, ‘Yes,’” said Mason. “In the business of helping Soldiers.”

This year’s goal—from now until the campaign’s end May 15—is to raise $12 million Armywide.

Taking AER into the 21st century Mason has plans of partnering with the corporate and business world. To look at other avenues of support for the organization. He also made it clear a Soldier asking for help from AER “is not a sign of weakness.”

There have been numerous stories, according to him, a Soldier was fearful of asking for assistance because he or she thought they would be looked upon as being weak or might be passed up for promotion.

“It (AER) lives and dies based on our contributions,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Hughes, U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox commanding general. “We now have young Soldiers who have needs.”

Hughes reminded the audience of officers and supporters at the Saber & Quill of the importance of AER. Last year alone, AER assisted more than 45,000 Soldiers, retirees and Family members overcome financial difficulties.

AER receives 87 cents out of every dollar donated. Administration and fundraising expenses account for the remaining 13 cents.

AER was established in 1942 by the secretary of war and Army chief of staff, two months after Pearl Harbor and the beginning of World War II.

“Just like that song, ‘When We Were Needed We Were There,’ when AER is needed we are there, as well,” Mason said. “Let’s have a great campaign and let’s take care of Soldiers.” n