Soldiers experiencing an unexpected financial crisis have turned to the Army Emergency Relief Fund for 75 years, and the organization’s annual campaign drive aims to keep that assistance available for current and future Soldiers alike.

AER is a non-profit organization that began in 1942 when the Army Secretary of War and Chief of Staff established a program that allowed Soldiers to put money into a pot for other Soldiers to use in case of emergency, said Darla Cureton, Fort Bragg AER officer.

“We are still doing that 75 years later and are also providing scholarships for military dependents,” she said.

The organization’s campaign drive heightens awareness of the organization and gives Soldiers the opportunity to help one another. This year’s campaign is scheduled for March 1 to May 15.

“We want to take one time out of the year to spotlight the program and talk about what we do, how we do it and how Soldiers can help,” Cureton said.

The program provides emergency assistance to Soldiers for unexpected expenses such as:

Funeral expenses

Minor home repairs

Vehicle repair

Emergency travel

Soldiers can receive assistance from the program through a command referral or direct access. Command referrals require a company commander or first sergeant’s signature and provide loans up to $1,500.

Direct access to AER allows a Soldier to apply for an AER loan, regardless of rank. Soldiers must have a minimum of 12 months in service or have completed Initial Entry Training, whichever is greater. Direct access requests are limited to two in a 12 month period and Soldiers who exhibit high-risk behaviors require a commandant review.

“We want to make sure we’re working with the command team to (ensure) that we are all working together to take care of that Soldier,” Cureton said. “So, we are going to require them to get that signature. Something may be happening that may put them at a high risk.”

These high-risk behaviors are important to monitor, said Lynn Olavarria, Financial Readiness Program manager.

“Finance problems can lead to domestic violence, can lead to suicide attempts ... so we want to get ahead of it,” she said.

AER loans are interest-free, but do require repayment. Soldiers who meet certain criteria are eligible for grants that they will not have to pay back.

“If they do not have the ability to repay and they have a valid emergency then at that point we can consider a grant for that Soldier,” Cureton said. “We want to make sure we meet their needs for the emergency and that repaying the money isn’t going to put them in a position to cause them any additional hardship.”

In addition to loans and grants, the organization also offers scholarships for dependent children and spouses. AER provides these scholarships for dependent children attending a vocational school, trade school or a traditional four-year college and for dependent spouses pursuing their first undergraduate degree.

Cureton and her staff train unit campaign managers who will relay information about the AER campaign to their respective units. The UCMs will have allotment forms that allow Soldiers to donate to AER directly from their pay, according to Cureton. AER also accepts cash or check donations.

The Commanding General’s Pay Day Golf Scramble, March 31 will also highlight the importance of the AER campaign. For more information on AER, or to donate, visit www.aerhq.org.