Army Emergency Relief drive has $250K goal this year

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Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 5:07 pm

This year’s Army Emergency Relief campaign, “Helping to make Soldiers and their families Army strong,” will run from March 1 to May 15.

The kickoff will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 28, at Pagano Gym, complete with a free-throw contest, a bake sale, a Redstone-inspired craft war, a paper-airplane contest, and chili pies in return for donations. This year's campaign goal is $250,000.

“The AER campaign is intended for Soldiers to help Soldiers, so it’s us getting out to 100 percent of the retirees and active duty Soldiers at Redstone and the surrounding area,” AER campaign chairman and HHC Company commander Capt. Alyssa Wood said. “They provide donations that then go back to help Soldiers.”

Redstone faces a special challenge, however, given its unique nature. “Most installations have 30,000 Soldiers; we have 30,000 civilians and under 1,000 Soldiers,” AER officer Kerrie Branson, of Army Community Service, said.

Nevertheless, she added, “we feel very lucky because we end up being one of the higher contributors thanks to the support we have here from our tenant organizations.” That includes businesses both on- and off-post, like Aviation Systems, who donated the proceeds of their 9/11 golf tournament; the Huntsville Havoc hockey team, who donated the proceeds of their military appreciation night; and Radiance Technologies, who donated the proceeds of their golf tournament.

That’s important because close to 10 percent of AER’s budget comes from the campaign, with the remainder coming from private donations and the paying back of loans. In turn, said Branson, that money is used to “provide financial assistance in emergency situations to those who are eligible – active duty, retirees, active National Guard and Reserve, and widows. We also provide scholarships to military dependents and grants and stipends to widows.

“Anyone who lives within 50 miles of Redstone can come directly to our office for assistance. Outside of that is a toll-free number in partnership with the Red Cross. So if someone comes in for assistance, I can usually do everything right here, then print and sign a check they can cash.”

By way of example, Branson recounted the story of a recently medically retired Soldier who was injured in combat. “He wasn’t going to receive pay as a retiree for a couple of months, but had depleted his savings and needed assistance with living expenses for one month. He had three children under 12 and it was right before Christmas of last year, and didn’t want to lose his house. So we were able to provide him with a grant that kept him from losing his home, that kept the power turned on, and that got him food and gas for the holidays.”

Another recent recipient needed help with a car repair. “We had a Soldier who was divorced and financially strapped. He had court-appointed visitations, but he didn’t have the money to have the tires on his vehicles replaced, so we helped him with that,” Branson said.

And that, in short, is exactly what the AER is there for, said Branson. “Our mission is to help the Soldier or retiree focus on the Army’s mission, their jobs and their families. So when they have a financial crisis, we can ease that burden and let them focus on what’s important.”

Once the AER campaign is concluded, a formal ceremony with senior commander Maj. Gen. Lynn Collyar will be held in early June, in which the contributing organizations will be recognized with a certificate.

“We encourage people to come participate,” said Wood, referring to both the kickoff event and the recognition ceremony. In the meantime, she will reprise her role last year of attending various campaign events throughout the season.

“Alyssa is the face of the campaign, and anytime people request a representative at their fund-raiser, she tries to make it,” Branson said. “She’s that green-suiter who they can identify with, who they’re giving their money to.”

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