Army Emergency Relief (AER) was formed in 1942 with the mission to alleviate financial stress on the force. Since they opened their doors they've given out $2 billion dollars in aid. They remain a part of the Army, and assistance is coordinated by mission and garrison commanders at Army bases throughout the world. With the continual threat of the coronavirus looming, AER is ready and not just to serve soldiers – but all branches of the military.
Lieutenant General Raymond Mason (ret.) has been the Director of AER since 2016 and feels passionate about his role at AER and what the organization can do for military families. He shared that the one thing that keeps him up at night is the soldier or military member that doesn't know about AER.
"If a soldier, airman, sailor, marine or coast guardsman is distracted by something in their life…. like finances, they probably aren't focused on their individual training. They aren't focused on their unit mission and if we send them into a combat zone with those distractions they are a danger to themselves and their buddies on their left and right," said Mason. That's where AER comes in.
AER is a 501c3 non-profit and receives no federal funding; instead they rely on the generous donations of others to make their mission a reality. Mason also shared that AER has close relationships with all of the other services relief organizations, with them often working together to serve those in need. For example, a coastie can walk into an AER office on post and get the same help as a soldier, although the representative they work with has to follow the guidelines of their branch's relief organization.
Their biggest concern right now is information. "I want to make sure everyone from private to general knows about our program," said Mason. He touched on the new environment of social media and the exploding availability of aid to military families. While he shared that it can be a good thing that there are so many organizations devoted to supporting the military; there are also some really bad agencies out there. Mason shared that AER is working hard on more strategic communication and marketing of their relief program to prevent that.
"This isn't a giveaway program, it's a help up. You get back on your feet and get back in the fight," said Mason. AER is also open to all ranks, knowing that anyone can need assistance at any time. They can walk into AER and know that they'll have their back. AER maintains a 4 out of 4 star rating with Charity Navigator, shared Mason, and it's something they are very proud of.
There are military members who are reluctant to request help through relief agencies out of fear of reprimand or negative impacts to their career. While AER encourages members to go to their chain of command with their needs, even granting approval for first sergeants to sign checks up to $2000 – Mason understands it isn't always easy. As long as they are outside of their initial trainings and have been serving over twelve months, they can go through direct access to get help without involving command.
As the military orders a stand down on travel due to the coronavirus, guard families are concerned. Many of them are unable to hold civilian jobs due to the frequent schools, trainings, TDYs and deployments. With orders being canceled or held, this means financial ruin could be just a paycheck away. AER will be there for those families and stands ready to serve them.
But all of this costs money, something that AER will always need to continue to support military members and their families. They are stepping up their donation requests by engaging with American citizens and corporations. "We've never done that throughout our history and we are doing it for the first time," said Mason. He continued by sharing although they've received support from them in the past, they've never asked. Now they are asking.AER just began its annual fundraising campaign, which kicked off on March 1 and will run through May 15, 2020. For the first time, they are really involving the bases and have turned it into a fun event that each group can make their own, Mason shared. There will be an awards ceremony later on in the year to celebrate those who went the extra mile.
He also shared that AER and most relief societies receive a very low percentage of donations that are actually received from active duty, which is concerning. Mason stated that it isn't about the amount that they give, but that they do give. "Military members fight for each other. When in combat you fight for your buddy on your left or right. If you aren't willing to reach in your back pocket to help your buddy on your left and right, we have a problem," said Mason.
"Leave no comrade behind" is the army's creed – it is a motto that all should take to heart, especially at home.
To learn more about AER and how you can help their mission, click here.
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