The U.S. Army’s Annual Army Emergency Relief Campaign has been a 79-year long tradition, but this year AER is doing something it’s never done before.
At the Association of the United States Army’s 2021 Conference, AER hosted its first-ever awards ceremony in celebration of those who supported their fellow Soldiers through the 2021 Annual AER Campaign. The U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General James C. McConville and Sergeant Major of the Army, Michael A. Grinston, have continuously been great supporters of AER in tandem with the U.S. Army’s No. 1 priority, “People First.”
General McConville and SMA Grinston wrote a letter of support for the 2021 Annual AER Campaign stating the, “Army Emergency Relief is an invaluable resource in our priority to take care of our people while ensuring we will always be prepared to ‘Fight to Win Our Nation’s Wars.'” The letter affirmed AER’s goals of providing “our Soldiers a helping hand when they need it most, allowing each of you to remain focused on your vital mission.”
Every Soldier who dedicated their efforts towards the annual campaign this year embodied “People First” in helping increase awareness of the many avenues of support available for our Soldiers through AER. While each installation had its own goals to fundraise a set amount of money during the campaign, the aim of the annual campaign is not about the money. Instead, the intention of the campaign is to grow towards 100 percent awareness to ensure no Soldier will ever face hardship alone. Installations were evaluated for the awards on the basis of Soldier awareness with little weight on how many dollars were raised.
The Director of Army Emergency Relief Lieutenant General (Ret.) Raymond Mason stated during his speech at the awards ceremony, “The campaign’s goal is 100 percent of Soldiers – and hopefully their Families – informed of the programs and benefits of AER,” and that “When they donate, they’re making a commitment to their Squad, they’re making a commitment to the Team and the Brothers and Sisters on their left and right.”
Winners of the 2021 Annual AER Campaign Awards
With this in mind, those who had the highest levels of Soldier awareness, were presented first, second, and third place for small, medium, and large installations. The highest scoring installations at each level were invited to attend the in-person awards ceremony at the 2021 AUSA Conference in Washington D.C., where Army Leadership, including AER Chairman of the Board of Directors General (Ret.) John Campbell, AER Board of Managers Chair SMA Michael Grinston and LTG (Ret.) Raymond Mason, personally recognized the highest performing garrisons and those who went above and beyond in their sense of duty to their local Army community and Soldiers around the world.
This year, each of the winning installations attributed their success to a variety of factors, but a common emphasis was always the importance of Soldiers helping Soldiers. For instance, the large installation leader, Fort Jackson, which gained a 21.1 percent participation rate and raised $171,660.00, was described by Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin as a “prestigious legacy… reflecting a culture of Soldiers caring for fellow Soldiers.” Fort Jackson unified and equipped Soldiers to succeed in this Annual AER Campaign through community-building events ranging from briefings to bowling competitions. During the kickoff ceremony, teams of Soldiers competed for the AER Bowling Championship Trophy. Their determination was best reflected by Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Muir, one of their Soldiers who participated in the bowling competition. He described their method as “to lead by example, lead from the front… How can I expect Soldiers to support AER if I’m not myself?”
Fort Leonard Wood
Leading by example, Fort Leonard Wood came in first place for the medium installation category with an impressive 51.8 percent participation rate and $154,323.00 raised, and they attributed their success to “non-commissioned officers taking care of Soldiers,” as Col. Jeff Paine told LTG (Ret.) Mason. Two of their volunteer coordinators, 1st Lt. Rom Pollack and Sgt. 1st Class Steven Hooper, attributed their success to their persistence and honesty. They kept things “short and sweet” in their briefings, but were thorough in their outreach, briefing more than 7,400 service members in 104 units on the ways AER can help their fellow Soldiers. Social media posts about the AER Campaign and their Woodworks community forum also contributed to their increased participation rate. The forum was a monthly event that, according to Megan O’Donoghue, acting Director of Fort Leonard Wood’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, “is designed to give a better understanding of community issues…[and] share information on upcoming events and network to improve the quality of life for our Soldiers, families, civilians, and Retirees.” In short, it was the perfect opportunity to increase awareness for the AER Campaign. Fort Leonard Wood consistently prioritized the AER Campaign from the beginning and this is what helped them stand out and exceed their fundraising goal, coming in first place for the medium installation category.
Presidio of Monterey
Despite its size, Presidio of Monterey had similar successes as they achieved a 23.1 percent participation rate and raised $20,408.00 total. They focused on encouraging the values of selfless service and teamwork, encouraging their Soldiers to participate in the AER Campaign by announcing helpful statistics about AER’s assistance to Soldiers around the world and, more specifically, within their own base. Along with this, PoM used a personal testimonial of how AER has changed Soldiers’ lives to build momentum towards the Annual AER Campaign. A story about Pfc. Joshua Ford, a student at PoM, shared his own story of how AER helped him and reiterated that asking for help is a sign of strength. As AER Officer Kim said, “Ultimately, we want all of our service members here to know this benefit exists for them, and to encourage them to visit me or talk to their chain of command about AER so we can devise a plan to support them in the best way possible. We are here to help.”
These installations were honored this year for taking the extra step to fight for their fellow Soldiers, and we look forward to all installations’ continued contribution through the next competition in 2022. “Three installations went above and beyond the call of duty,” LTG (Ret.) Raymond Mason said of the first-place winners at the 2021 ceremony. “What bonds this Army together? Soldiers fight for each other.” We look forward to honoring Soldiers’ continued dedication on a yearly basis and remember: Winning Matters.