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Army Emergency Relief director visits Fort Riley to build relationships

By Season Osterfeld | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | December 15, 2017

     Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond V. Mason, director of Army Emergency Relief, visited Fort Riley Dec. 7 alongside retired Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Durr, chief of financial assistance for AER.

     Mason and Durr visited the post as part of an ongoing effort to meet with Soldiers and their family members at installations with AER locations to understand their needs and wants, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of AER there.

      “My Sergeant Major and I are from Army Emergency Relief and we are here to both impart some information about AER and inform Soldiers and family members about the programs of AER,” Mason said. “… we want to hear from Soldiers and family members — where are we meeting the needs? Where are we not? What programs can we put in place to perhaps better meet the needs of the Army family?”

     Mason was appointed director in January 2017 and said he started visiting installations with AER branches shortly thereafter. He estimates he spends 1 ½ to two weeks of each month traveling to another installation.

     “There’s nothing like hearing it firsthand from Soldiers at the most junior to most senior level what they’re experiencing,” he said. “Each post is a little bit unique and we want to hear from Fort Riley where we meet the need and where we need to adjust our program to better meet the needs.”

     Clint Strutt, Fort Riley Financial Readiness Program manager, said Mason and Durr are looking to understand what unique challenges face each installation, as well as improve their communication of AER assistance to Soldiers and dependents at these locations about everything from grants to loans and scholarships.

     “It’s always good for folks to lay eyes on what’s going on at a particular section,” Strutt said. “Going through and doing all of these visits at kind of the same time will allow Lt. Gen. Mason and Command Sgt. Maj. Durr to really identify good best practices from each one of the AER sections and bring those back to the sections that might be able to use those.”

     Mason said visiting each installation shows him firsthand the needs of the Soldiers there because no two installations are the same. He can read the reports and statistics to see what the most common AER requests are, but that doesn’t tell him why they’re coming in.

     “Here at Fort Riley, the number one category of assistance that we provide is car repair and car replacement up to $4,000,” he said. “Across the Army, that’s about number two. Number one across the Army is rent and deposit on rent, but I think the Manhattan (Kansas) and Fort Riley area not being as high a cost as Washington, D.C., or Hawaii, car repair is certainly the big need that’s here.”

     Mason and Durr spent their visit in multiple sensing sessions with senior spouses, chaplains, commands, junior and senior noncommissioned officers and other parties to meet with a broad variety of people who may need, have needed, or know someone who needs, AER assistance. These sessions let them present AER’s services while also receiving feedback and constructive criticisms from those they met with.

     “I think what’s nice about the different sessions that they’ve set up is they’ve worked really hard to get a cross section of some junior NCOs, some company commanders, the folks that really use AER as a tool for their Soldiers on a regular basis and those are going to be the folks you really need to solicit information from,” Strutt said.

     Mason said the Fort Riley AER program was among the best in the Army and his visit allowed him to pick up new best practices he would like to see executed at other installations. However, he also found areas for improvement to help Fort Riley develop a stronger program.

     “We have a magnificent program here — one of the best in the Army,” Mason said. “All the numbers and statistics indicate that and then the feedback we’ve been getting from the sessions tells us that, but there’s always room for improvement and we’re always trying to be innovative. The Army changes. This is a 21st century Army.”

      Fort Riley handles about 100 AER requests a month, Strutt said. One of the biggest challenges is finding the proper communication outlets to relay information about the loans, grants and scholarships available. During the sensing session with the senior spouses, Strutt took notes as the spouses offered their ideas and opinions that included family engagement activities.

      Mason said his visit to Fort Riley was productive and he took a lot from it to help better the program across the Army and assist more Soldiers and their families.

 

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