Monica Wood | Fort Sill Public Affairs | March 1, 2023
FORT SILL, Oklahoma — The head of Army Emergency Relief was on Fort Sill to raise awareness for the campaign of Soldiers helping Soldiers, which kicked off worldwide March 1.
According to retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, executive director, Army Emergency Relief, the campaign, which runs through May 15, has one main goal — combat readiness for Soldiers and units.
“If a Soldier is distracted by something in their life — such as financial problems — they’re not focused on their training. They’re not focused on their unit mission the way they should be. And if we send them into combat, they’re potentially a danger to themselves, and their brothers and sisters on their left and right,” said Mason.
We need Soldiers to go into combat laser-focused on their mission, complete their mission and come home safely to their loved ones — that’s mission success, he said.
“AER can help minimize, and hopefully, eliminate the financial distraction,” Mason said. “AER’s mission is take care of Soldiers and help them complete the mission.”
AER helps with zero-interest loans for more than 30 categories of assistance and emergency situations. Some common reasons include: one-time rent payment, car repairs, utilities, some medical and dental payments, PCS travel and COVID assistance, as well as other unforeseen emergencies. Soldiers, retirees and surviving family members can reach out to the Fort Sill Army Community Service office at 580-442-4916 to begin the process or determine eligibility for the emergency financial situation.
The AER campaign serves two purposes. One is to raise money through donations from Soldiers and civilians. The money is given back in zero-interest loans or grants to Soldiers when they need it. The second, or primary goal, of the campaign is to inform 100 percent of the Soldiers on Fort Sill of the benefit AER provides to them and ensure they know how to receive help through the organization.
“Our goal is to get 25 percent of active-duty Soldiers contributing to AER,” said Mason. “Right now at Fort Sill, it’s about 7 percent donating to AER and that’s a problem because when you donate to AER you’re making a commitment to the team, to the values and the ethos and the profession of arms. Soldiers fight for each other. They fight for their brothers and sisters on their left and right. So, when you make that commitment and the donation, you are part of the team. You may not need that money right now, but then sometime in the future you might.”
According to Mason, AER has provided over $2 billion in loans and grants to about 4 million members of the Army team.
“Every year we do about $70 million in assistance across the entire Army. That’s usually about $40 to $50 million in zero-interest loans. It’s another 10 to 12 million in grants that a Soldier doesn’t have to pay back and another 10 to 12 million in scholarships for spouses and children,” he said.
Mason said at Fort Sill last year, $800,000 was paid in loans; $130,000 in grants; Soldiers donated $30,000; and $500,000 — half a million — went to scholarships for spouses and children.
“Ninety-one cents of every dollar a Soldier donates goes right back to Soldiers. That’s one of the highest of any nonprofit in the world as it should be,” he said.
“Here’s some things about AER: Our motto is Soldiers helping Soldiers, so all the money I just described, was donated by Soldiers, not exclusively, but mostly from active-duty and retired Soldiers. We also get donations from American citizens and corporations,” said Mason.
“Whatever you’re dealing with as a Soldier, come to AER. We’re all about trying to get to yes. There’s no stigma with this. It’s not going to affect your promotion. It’s not going affect your security clearance,” Mason said. “It’s 0 percent interest. That’s a big deal compared to lending agencies outside the gate. Some of them are unscrupulous and predatory, and they’ll charge lots of interest. We want Soldiers to come to us. Most loans are for 12 to 15 months, and we’ll work with the Soldier. We’ll renegotiate the loan along the way so they can pay it as fast or slow as they need. We can help and it’s very easy.”
Soldiers and government civilians can contribute to the AER campaign through May 13 by filling out donation forms supplied within their units or by going online and giving at https://give.armyemergencyrelief.org/FTSILL.