Molly Cooke
Fort Stewart Public Affairs
Photo by Molly Cooke
Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, Army Emergency Relief director (left), discusses updated AER processes to Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Commander, Col. Manny Ramirez (right), during a meet-and-greet session, July 20 at the Garrison Headquarters on Fort Stewart. During the visit, Mason explained the AER program and the importance of financial planning for Soldiers, Family members and Retirees across the Army.

Program takes guesswork out of financial assistance for Soldiers, Families

The life of a service member isn’t always easy. But, of all the things a Soldier has to worry about on a daily basis, finances shouldn’t be one of them.

That’s where the Army Emergency Relief program comes in.

Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, Army Emergency Relief director, visited Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, July 20-21 to promote the program and solicit feedback from installation leadership on what they would like to see the non-profit provide Soldiers and Family Members.

In an effort to ease unexpected financial burdens that may arise in a service member’s life, AER has taken the guesswork out of financial planning by providing over $2 billion to Soldiers, Family Members and retirees through zero-interest loans, grants and educational scholarships.

The program has been in existence since 1942.

AER is based 100% on the donations from Soldiers and American citizens with 90 cents from every dollar directly returning to Soldiers and their Families.

“We’re not trying to create demand; we’re trying to meet valid demand,” Mason said. “That’s the one thing that keeps me up at night — is there a Soldier or Family member out there that’s hurting and doesn’t know about us?”

The AER program offers lending options in over 30 categories. The three biggest products being loans, grants, and a combination of a loan and a grant.

“All emergency relief loans start off as a 50% grant, and a 50% loan regardless of a service member’s rank,” Mason said. “It could become 100% grant depending on your individual circumstances. If you have a serious illness or experience a death in the Family, you’re already dealing with enough. We don’t want to add to that burden.”

Mason explained that he and his team also look to ease the burden on those who may be concerned about loan repayment and credit scores.

“You’d be surprised how many people ask us what our interest rates are,” he said. “We offer our grants and loans at a 0% interest rate and we don’t involve a service member’s credit in our decision to offer assistance at all.”

Additionally, if a service member needs extra time to pay off a loan, all it takes is a simple phone call to the AER office for an extension.

“We are able to extend a loan repayment for up to four extra months,” said James Fleming, Army Community Service Financial Readiness program manager. “All it takes is a simple phone call or for them to just come in and speak with one of our financial counselors.”

Fleming also expressed the importance of anonymity throughout the loan process.

As long as a service member has been in the Army for more than 12 months, there isn’t a need to seek a commander’s approval to receive a loan. Additionally, there isn’t a limit to how many times a service member can seek assistance through AER.

“We want our Soldiers to understand that there is no need to go downtown to get a loan or to try to circumvent your commanders because you need financial assistance,” he said. “Especially when AER is right here on the installation in the form of no-interest loans and grants. As long as there is a need, we are happy to provide.”

In addition to financial assistance, the Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield AER program has five certified financial counselors on staff to assist Soldiers and Family members with budgeting and financial planning.

“There is no need for any Soldier on this installation to lose sleep over not having enough food; not knowing how they’re going to fill their vehicle up with gas; or how is their rent going to be paid,” Fleming said. “They should sleep well knowing that they can reach out to us to receive the financial assistance they need.”

To learn about the installation’s AER program, visit home.army.mil/stewart/index.php/about/Garrison/acs/financial-readiness.