CAMP ZAMA, Japan – The Army Emergency Relief campaign kicked off March 4, 2024, with a modeling fair to help shine a spotlight on the nonprofit that supports Soldiers and family members.

Roughly 200 adults and children attended the “Strike a Pose for AER” event held at the Camp Zama Community Club.

Brad Morgan, the AER officer at Camp Zama’s Army Community Service, said they wanted to do something different to draw attention to the program.

“We’re in a unique situation here in Japan,” he said. “We decided to do a modeling fair, because it’s popular here for the Japanese [companies] to have foreigners in their advertisements.”

Command Sgt. Maj. David A. Rio, senior enlisted leader for U.S. Army Garrison Japan, spoke to the crowd during the event, which also had a cake cutting to mark the start of the campaign.

“This modeling fair not only showcases our community members by offering the chance to be discovered by a talent and model agency,” Rio said, “but it also raises awareness about the valuable mission of AER to a wider audience.”

For more than 80 years, AER has been the nonprofit of choice for Soldiers and families in need of assistance – or for those looking to donate.

The organization provides grants, interest-free loans and scholarships to enhance readiness and alleviate financial burdens. To date, AER has provided $2 billion dollars in aid to at least 4 million Soldiers.

Last year, the ACS team here helped distribute nearly $60,000 in grants and loans to assist 30 community members.

“The program has been essential in allowing the Camp Zama community to support their own,” Rio said.

Most of the aid helps Soldiers and their families take emergency travel to the United States when another Family member is sick or has died.

“We help them get back to their Family,” Morgan said. “A lot of times the command will pay for their airfare, but we’ll help them with the hotel room, rental car and food [expenses].”

As personal finances can negatively affect a Soldier’s readiness, AER can also assist them in other financial emergencies, such as car and home repairs and medical payments.

Morgan said they should speak with ACS staff before requesting a loan from a bank or online site.

“We would much rather have them come to us first,” he said. “We try to help out the service member with a zero-interest loan or even a grant in some cases.”

Additionally, there are $1,000 grants available from AER to cover expenses for Soldiers who participate in the Army Career Skills Program as they prepare to transition to civilian employment.

AER has committed $3 million in grants to support the program, which allows Soldiers to take part in various apprenticeships, internships and other employment skills training in their last 180 days of service, its website said.

Grants up to $2,000 were available last year for the Career Skills Program, but this year the amount was cut in half.

“It went down this year and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to donate,” Morgan said. “If we don’t get those donations, it will limit us even more in the future.”

AER is among the top 10 percent of all charities and receives no federal funding, according to its website.

The program is funded by donations from active-duty and retired Soldiers as well as other American citizens and corporations.​

In the previous year’s campaign, individuals in the Camp Zama community donated more than $2,000.

The current campaign was recently extended through June 14 to coincide with the Army’s 249th birthday. Those interested in donating can either get in touch with their unit AER coordinator or talk to ACS staff.

“Your contribution could one day make a difference for a fellow community member in need,” Rio said.

More on the 2024 AER Annual Campaign.