News: AER campaign kicks off at Fort Hood
Story by Staff Sgt. Tomora Clark
FORT HOOD, Texas - With a slogan of helping the Army take care of its own, the annual Army Emergency Relief Campaign officially kicked off Army wide Mar. 1. AER is a nonprofit service for soldiers, retirees and dependents based on financial need and funded primarily through donations.
The campaign raises funds from March 1 through May 15 to support the efforts of Army Emergency Relief.
This year, the Fort Hood campaign goal is $400,000, said Johnny Judd, the lead AER specialist for Fort Hood, a Cookeville, Tenn., native. Last year, the campaign raised more than $430,000 and disbursed more than $4.9 million.
The 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 base by an AER counselor, said Judd. 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,” said Judd. “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.”
“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,” said Sgt. Alan Sustaita, a unit AER representative and military police officer with the 410th Military Police Company, 720th MP Battalion, 89th MP Brigade from Austin, Texas. “I’ve never been a representative before, but I have helped other soldiers receive information about AER loans. “
How does Army Emergency Relief loans differ from other loans?
“AER loans are interest free … If you borrow $1,500 dollars that’s what you are paying back — absolutely no interest or fees,” Judd said.
“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,” said Sustaita. “But getting a loan through the Army, it helps the soldier because it is completely interest free.”
Sustaita added as the unit representative, “This is an awesome opportunity. The chance to help soldiers at my unit by letting them know they have other options for financial help.”
Judd said, there are two different types of loans offered by AER: commander’s referral and regular assist. The commander’s referral loan usually takes less paper work, is based on a 15-month payback, has an amount limit, and the commander must sign off approving the loan for the soldier. On the other hand, the regular assist takes a little longer for processing time and has no monetary limit.
Although the AER is a program that has existed since 1942, there is one major change to the program.
According to the AER website on Jan. 1 2014, noncommissioned officers and above do not need their chain of command to approve them for an AER regular assist loan.
Judd said, this change came about due to the AER headquarters office in Alexandria, Va., survey on why soldiers were choosing other loan options over AER. The study concluded soldiers didn’t want their chain of command involved in their financial affairs.
“I think this change to the AER program is a good idea for the soldiers,” Judd said.
For more information, visit http://www.aerhq.org/dnn563/ or contact a local AER counselor.