Kathleen Riester, AER Officer extraordinaire, is set to retire on March 31, 2021. We spoke with Kathleen about her 27 years of supporting Army Families.
How did you find your way to becoming an AER officer and what kept you in that role for so long?
I became a federal employee in Frankfurt Germany in 1993 working at Army Community Service, then on to Heidelberg Germany for the next 8 years. Three of those years were at the European Command inspecting ACS programs in Europe. It was a great ride. In 2003, through the priority placement program, the computer matched my skill set to a job opening at Redstone Arsenal Army Community Service. For the first time in my marriage I was able to ask my husband, “Honey, how do you feel about Redstone Arsenal.” I had the opportunity to earn my financial counseling certification in 2006 at Redstone Arsenal. When the AER position became vacant in 2011, management decided to combine the two programs. Due to Redstone Arsenal’s unique demographics, it made good sense. I already had a Master’s Degree in Human Development & Families Studies from when my husband was stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas. I wanted to work with military families! And work with military families I did, for 27 years!
What were some of the most common requests for assistance for single Soldiers, married Soldiers, and retired Soldiers?
For single Soldiers, it was transit from one installation to another, auto repairs. For married Soldiers, it was past due rent or unusually high utility. For Retired Soldiers, we’ve recently seen an increase in HVAC repair and replacement.
What one request stands out most in your mind?
The only exception to policy I submitted, which was approved. A Reserve Soldier age 60, could not draw his retirement benefits until age 62. We were able to assist him with his immediate need and he was so appreciative. I think that is why it sticks out in my mind, he simply had no other recourse and AER was there for him. It doesn’t get any better than that.
How has AER changed during your career?
The big change for me was when the audit standards went from 3 to 39! That should speak volumes.
How has the Army changed during your career?
There have been so many changes but the one that stands out was mandating regular Soldiers to wear a black beret. It was so controversial, everywhere you went that was the topic. No one was in favor of it. As the Army changed, so too did AER. To the credit of AER, it kept pace with the Army as it enforced new policies. As Soldiers’ needs changed AER was right there along the way, making changes to keep up with the rapidly changing Army of One.
Chief of Staff Gen. McConville says “put people first and winning will follow”, what does this mean to you and what can AER officers around the world do to ensure they’re putting people first?
AER is all about putting the Soldier and their families first. This is a given for AERO’s worldwide. When a Soldier walks into your office, you drop everything and give them your undivided attention. That is essentially what we do on a daily basis. It is always about the Soldier, identifying the need and trying to find a way to resolve it, trying to find a way to say “yes.”
If you were Director of AER for one day, what would you do?
Without hesitation, I would move AER HQ to Huntsville, Alabama, and watch the campaign contributions skyrocket. Pun intended!