With a slogan of helping the Army take care of its own, the annual Army Emergency Relief Campaign officially kicked off March 1.
Army Emergency Relief raises funds from March 1 through May 15 to support the nonprofit’s mission to help soldiers, retirees and dependents with emergency loans based on financial need. It is funded primarily through donations.
This year, the Fort Hood campaign goal is $400,000, said Johnny Judd, the post’s lead AER specialist. Last year, the campaign raised more than $430,000 and disbursed more than $4.9 million locally.
AER also offers assistance through grants.
Grants are based on the financial hardship a soldier or dependent might have paying a loan back and are considered on a case-by-case basis by an AER counselor, Judd said. Counselors can also provide a combination of a grant and loan option.
Every year, each unit chooses a representative to spearhead the campaign at their organizational level.
“Each of the units on Fort Hood designates an AER representative as a key person responsible for receiving donations from the soldiers in their unit,” Judd said. “We (the AER counselors) give them training on what AER is, how to fill out donation forms, and how to input that data into the AER database, so their unit can get credit for the contributions made to AER.”
Sgt. Alan Sustaita is a unit representative with the 410th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade.
“I was asked by the company first sergeant to be the primary AER NCO, so we could raise money to help soldiers in time of need,” he said. “I’ve never been a representative before, but I have helped other soldiers receive information about AER loans.”
Loans from AER are different than those of traditional lenders because they are interest free.
“I believe that (AER loans) are safer for soldiers going through financial struggles. If you get a loan from off post, the lenders are going to charge you high interest rates, and it could go against your credit if you are late,” Sustaita said. “But getting a loan through the Army, it helps the soldier because it is completely interest free.”