Retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason said he believes in taking care of battle buddies “to the right and to the left of you.” As the Director of Army Emergency Relief, he gets to live it every single day.
Mason served in the Army for 35 years, retiring in 2014. Throughout his career, he witnessed firsthand the impact of the relief society.
“AER has been around for almost 80 years and the mission statement that was given to us by the Chief of the Army at the time, George C. Marshall, was to help relieve financial stress on the force. That was true in 1942 and is absolutely true in 2021,” he said. “We’ve been the conduit from which about $2 billion of assistance has been given out to around 4 million members of the Army team.”
AER partners with the other military relief organizations, as well.
“We all learn from each other and help each other out. It’s one big family,” Mason shared.
From March 1 through May 15, AER runs a national campaign across all Army installations. Though the fundraising goal is a vital piece of it, Mason also shared the importance of ensuring awareness.
“We want every soldier at every unit across this great Army –– no matter where they are in the world –– to be aware of AER, what our mission is, what our programs are and how we can help them,” Mason said. “This is about a help up, it’s not a handout. It is about helping soldiers get through tough times because life throws some curves.”
Through zero-interest loans or grants, AER supports several difficult situations from disaster relief, rent or mortgage assistance, military spouse employment support and so much more.
“We want to help you get over the tough spot and even have financial counselors to take it even further. My hopes are to get to truly 100% informed,” Mason said.
And just because a need isn’t listed on its website, it doesn’t mean it won’t be supported.
“This is all about taking care of your battle buddies to the right and left of you. We at AER don’t care how much a soldier donates, we just care that they do it. When they do that, they are investing in their own future and they are also making a commitment to the team,” he said. “It lives at the company level … I am very encouraged; it was a great campaign this year.”
On bases across the world, $4.8 million was raised for soldiers and Army families. At the 2021 Association of the United States Army Conference, Fort Leonard Wood was recognized for not only raising the most funds but for its 51% soldier participation rate.
“Asking for help is a sign of strength. It’s easy to say that but it’s hard in practice. You’re taught when you get into the military, regardless of what branch of service it is, that you are strong and can make it. All of those things are true, but we don’t know your story or what just happened to you,” Mason said.
Located on every Army base throughout the world, the organization stands ready to serve those who serve. Despite the readiness, Mason was quick to acknowledge barriers. Throughout the military, there has long been an often-voiced fear around utilizing relief societies. It’s a stigma AER and Army leadership is working hard to eliminate.
“This [AER] is all about building the resiliency of the Army. Soldiers helping soldiers is why we get up every morning. I tell people this is the second best job I’ve ever had in my life with the first being a battalion commander of the 82nd,” he said with a smile.
Mason credits the entire team at AER and representatives across installation commands with this year’s success.
“We deal with some pretty tough situations so there is a really good feeling when you get to help a soldier,” he said. “It is an amazing team and I feel so blessed and honored to be a part of it.”