Soldiers help each other through the tough times

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USAG DAEGU — A battle buddy in need is a battle buddy indeed. When there’s an emergency, a buddy is always there to help out. Soldiers have each other’s backs regardless of whether they are on or off the battlefield. On March 4th, USAG Daegu community members rallied around the motto of ‘Never Leave a Soldier in Need’ to acknowledge the start of the annual Army Emergency Relief (AER) fund campaign on Camp Walker and Camp Carroll. Though it was a rainy day, Soldiers turned out to participate the 4K fun run and to hear the USAG Daegu Garrison Commander, Col. Ted Stephens share his knowledge of what AER could do for a Soldier in a time of emergency.

“There is a growing problem in the Army where more Soldiers are taking out high interest loans, with an average 25 to 30% annual interest rate, without asking what AER could do for them first. Consider AER as the first line of defense when financial emergency occurs. If it’s within my legal guideline and area of assistance, I will make the best effort to tell you, ‘yes! I could help you with that problem,” said Ms. Sonya McCaw, who is the Area IV Financial Readiness Counselor and Army Emergency Relief officer.

“Army Community Service’s Financial Readiness Program is all about ensuring readiness of all service members, so they could be mission ready. For example, you have certain tasks but your mind is bogged down by the next car payment that is coming up and you might miss it because you are in a bad situation. That’s why they provide budgeting classes, credit building, preventing identity theft, and a thrift savings plan. AER is also part of that but it is geared towards helping Soldiers, so they won’t be behind on the car bill. It is a tool in place to figure out how to get soldiers out of trouble. We know that life happens and we’d like to help you first and then address the issue of your spending pattern, so we can keep Soldiers on the right track,” said McCaw.flag

To reiterate, AER is the Army’s own emergency financial assistance organization, which is funded by Soldiers, civilians, and their family members, specifically to help Soldiers and their eligible dependents. It gives out no-interest loans, grants, or a combination of both during their emergencies. In order to get help during the time of emergency, one must bring a valid military ID card, leave and earnings statement (LES), leave/PCS orders, and substantiating documents such as car repair estimate, rental agreement, or utility bill.

“There is a guideline as to who gets the loan and who gets the grant. If there’s an emergency such as PCS assistance, we know that you are getting paid when you get to your next duty station but you just don’t have the money yet. That’s when we issue loans. But if you are already in a bad financial situation, and there is not a surplus in your budget and in the foreseeable future, that’s when we give out grants,” said McCaw.

“People come in all the time for the variety of reasons.” McCaw continued.  “The most memorable experience I had was when I first arrived to Area IV. There was this young Soldier who was stationed in Area IV. The problem he had was that he hadn’t been paid for 6 months but he showed up for work and everything. Without being paid, he had no other choice than to wear the same uniform for months and it started to get ragged. Fortunately, the chain of command noticed that. The problem was that the brand new Soldier owed money to the Army from the last station due to equipment loss, and he thought the Army would pay him when he was done paying the Army back. When the command got involved and investigated the case, they found out that he was dropped from the roll and identified as AWOL (absent without leave). The chain of command brought him to AER, and with the help of AER, he was able to receive assistance while everything was being put on the right track,” said McCaw.

What AER doesn’t want Soldiers to do is to breed problems until it becomes too big or too late. “When there’s an emergency arising, come straight to AER. We are here to help when it is still manageable,” said McCaw.

As mentioned above, AER could help Soldiers when it comes to providing basic living expenses such as providing food, shelter, transportation, medical use, and funeral expenses in the midst of an emergency.  Looking at last year statistics, more than $50,000 was used for Soldiers’ emergency travel expense, followed by rent and mortgage assistance in Area IV.

AER makes constant efforts to lift any additional burden placed on Soldiers. “As of last year, AER increased its overall grants by 30% and Area IV alone spent 15% in grants last year. Moving forward, we want to expand further on our capacity to help more soldiers.” said McCaw.

Also, AER understands that even with the open door policy, some Soldiers are hesitant to go to their chain of command to report they are going through a tough time and they might need support from AER for various personal reasons. In an effort to reduce the burden on Soldiers, as of 2015, AER allows any soldier who has been in the Army for more than 12 months to come straight to AER without having to go through the chain of command. Those who were in the Army for less than 12 months need to get involved with the chain of command so they can be pointed to the right direction. If the chain of command is involved with the command referral program, it will expedite the assistance process.

“We raised $35,000 last year but we can do better,” said McCaw. In 2016, AER financial goal is to raise $60,000 which is not a lot considering Area IV AER gave out $188,000 just last year. “If a Soldier donated $1 a month for a year, we would be able to meet our projected goal. Imagine if people donated $3 a month instead of $1. Even though Army Emergency Relief holds the entire fund, it is important that all local communities try to support the organization so it can increase its capacity to help more Soldiers who are in need.”

In order to bring more awareness to Soldiers, AER relies on ‘word of mouth’ as its primary tool for spreading the word. “When the program helps a Soldier out, hopefully, they could introduce the program to fellow Soldiers who are going through a similar predicament. Tell other people AER is here for them and that AER isn’t a bad thing. This kind of approach worked in the past and I believe it is the most effective tool of marketing for a program of this nature,” said McCaw. The Army-wide annual AER fund campaign lasts from March 1st until May 15th. For more information, please contact the Area IV AER Officer, Ms. Sonya M. McCaw at Army Community Service Center, Camp Henry, or call 768-8127.

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