AER - For Soldiers, For Life

Written by Guy Shields, Colonel, US Army, Retired,  Chief, Communications and Public Affairs Army Emergency Relief

From its humble beginnings in 1942, through the decades of Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, and to the current operations around the world, Army Emergency Relief has been there to help Soldiers and Families for 73 years.

Incorporated by the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff of the Army as a private non-profit, AER was created to meet the unexpected financial needs of a rapidly expanding, draftee Army. Since 1942 AER has provided more than $3.7 billion in assistance to more than 3.5 million Soldiers and Families.

Just as AER has changed throughout the years to maintain relevance to the Army, the relationship between AER and a Soldier changes throughout the Soldier’s career and well into retirement.

For a young, single Soldier, AER is there to help with the unexpected financial challenges that accompany deployments or a death in the family back home. It may be the Soldier doesn’t currently have the cash to buy the plane ticket back home. Just like in 1942, one of the most important categories of assistance is emergency travel to get the Soldier back home to be with Family at this critical time.

As a young leader, AER is a “tool” in the leadership tool kit to help take care of Soldiers. That is what leadership is all about, and AER provides leaders a valuable and fast way to take care of those unexpected financial emergencies. Maybe the Soldier just had a major car repair that depleted most of his savings…and then he gets the phone call that requires him to get back home quickly. AER is there to cover that need.

As a mid-grade leader, AER can be an even more effective and responsive leadership tool. In 2005, AER established the Commander’s Referral Program. Under that program, the Company Commander or First Sergeant IS the approval authority for loans up to $1,500! Nearly 45% of all active duty assistance is provided through this highly effective program.

As a senior leader the relationship is equally important. It’s very simple…just ensuring that there is an environment where Soldiers not only know that it’s OK to ask for help, but that subordinate leaders are actively looking for those Soldiers who are facing financial challenges and getting them to AER rather than letting them go off post to dig a deeper hole. A Soldier who doesn’t have to worry about how he’s going to pay for that new transmission and brakes, is a Soldier who can focus on the mission at hand.

Leaders themselves may find themselves in a situation where they’re confronted with an unexpected financial challenge. An example of what can happen…a young Captain with twins, both needing cranial helmets at a cost of $6,500…up front because it’s not covered. Through the efforts of a caring senior leader, the Captain had the courage to ask for help.

A Soldier’s relationship with AER doesn’t end with retirement. Retired Soldiers and their Families are still eligible for AER assistance! At this point in their lives, not only are they eligible for assistance, but they still have the opportunity Help the Army Take Care of its Own by contributing during the annual campaign.

AER is truly a program that stays with Soldiers for life!