Story by Kristen Wong on 03/08/2018SCHOFIELD BARRACKS Staff Sgt. Brian McCord Sr. was stationed in Hawaii when he received a message that his mother would need open-heart surgery on the U.S. mainland.
"Needless to say my world stopped, and I was stressed and worried about my mom, as well as how to work the expenses for travel and lodging," McCord said. "All of this was overwhelming. Before I could get a grasp on this news, a second message came through that her condition was worsening, and I needed to get there quickly."
McCord, a Soldier with Warrior Transition Battalion, here, said he was wary of asking for assistance from Army Emergency Relief as he felt it would be a "negative strike" against him. However, he soon found his command was supportive and he received financial assistance to travel to the mainland and acquire a hotel room near his mother's hospital.
His mother has since recovered, and McCord shared his story at the 2018 AER Fundraising Campaign Kickoff, at the Nehelani Banquet & Conference Center, March 2.
This year, the theme of the campaign, which runs through May 15, is "AER: There for those who serve." Last year, the local campaign raised approximately $204,000 for the nonprofit organization, which was born in 1942. This year, the local goal is $210,000.
Gwen Galloway, the AER officer for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii, said there's always a need for donations to AER. Last year, for example, overall, national AER raised approximately $9.3 million, but distributed approximately $69.3 million in emergency financial assistance. Last year in Hawaii alone, more than 1,400 Soldiers, retirees and their families received $2.4 million in loans and grants.
Thus far this year, the AER office on Schofield Barracks has already distributed more than $350,000.
While addressing the crowd, Col. Stephen E. Dawson, commander, USAG-HI, said this year's goal is rather small. He's confident the community can raise more than expected.
"Let's show our spirit of giving by donating generously to the 2018 AER campaign," he said. "Let's exceed this year's $210,000 goal!"
Through AER, Soldiers, retirees and reservists on Title 10 orders for 30 consecutive days or more, and their families, are eligible to receive grants, scholarships or interest-free loans in times of critical financial need.
"Life happens, emergencies happen and there isn't always money to cover it," Galloway said. "To take the worries off a person's mind, AER is available during those emergencies. The only way to do that is to keep paying off the interest-free loans and collecting donations."
Retired Sgt. Maj. William Hagzan Jr., an emergency assistance administrator for AER headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, also spoke at the kickoff. He said the program is being under-utilized, with 49 percent of Soldiers ranked E-1 to E-4 approaching outside sources, such as payday lenders for financial assistance, instead of AER.
"The value of interest saved and impact on the long-term financial well-being for a Soldier should not be overlooked and cannot be matched by any other organization," Hagzan said. "We will not eliminate use of non-banking institutions, and it is unrealistic to think that we will. But we can become the Soldier's first choice and we become that first choice through awareness and a command climate that says it's OK to ask for help."
To contact the Schofield Barracks AER Office call 655-4227. The AER Office has moved to a new location between the Exchange and the Schofield Barracks Commissary, in Bldg. 690.
To make an online donation, visit www.aerhq.org. Galloway said members of the public may donate to AER if they wish. The AER smartphone application is no longer available.
AER provides emergency financial assistance for the following:
Dependent dental care,
Emergency travel to include lodging, rental POV and food,
Repair/replacement of HVAC,
Repair/replacement of major appliances,
Travel fund for relocation (PCS),
Vehicle repairs/monthly payments, and
Rent/Initial Rent and Deposit.
AER does not provide emergency financial assistance for the following:
Bad checks or payment of credit card bills,
Fines or legal expenses,
Liquidation or consolidation of debt,
Ordinary leave or vacation, nor
Purchase of home or home improvements.