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Staff Writer

DEVENS — Army Reserve and Army National Guard soldiers and Marines stationed here participated, as they do each year right about now, in a five-mile run to benefit Army Emergency Relief (AER) and its equivalent Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society.

Lt. Col. Caryn Heard, the 94th Regional Readiness commander, and command sergeant majors from the 94th and Marine 25th Regiment again were among the runners. Command Sgt. Maj. Peter Brooks ran with his young daughter, Kayla.

“This year we contacted retirees, who’ve been very helpful,” said Devens AER Operations Officer Mel Fisher.

The local run, which took place May 23 this year, is part of a three-month annual March-to-May fund-raising campaign. One-third of the money raised to help military members, spouses and widows financially must be from donations, said Sgt. Maj. Dennis Scott, of AER headquarters in Alexandria, Va.

Some runners are sponsored locally, Scott said, but runs are primarily held for name awareness purposes.

“We want soldiers, particularly our new soldiers, to know about the help that is available to them in emergencies,” said Scott. “Some 80,000 to 90,000 soldiers join the military every year, replacing those who retire.”

AER is rated as one of the best run nonprofit corporations, according to its Web site, www.aerhq.org, where 88 cents of every dollar is contributed.

“AER is run predominantly by retired Army personnel, mostly from the Vietnam era,” said Scott. “Our director is retired Lt. Gen. Robert Foley, one of only 110 living recipients of the Medal of Honor. He wants to make sure soldiers are taken care of.”

Each branch of the military has its own organization. AER is Army, the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society is self-explanatory, as are the Air Force Aid Society and Coast Guard Mutual Aid.

“Each has reciprocal agreements with each other and the Red Cross. They can request assistance from each other,” Scott said. “A lot of times they support each other’s organizations.”

Soldiers can contribute to AER anytime by signing a payroll decrementation form, but the campaign itself is set for March, April and May. Many donations are made from private industries.

AER’s mission is simply “to provide emergency financial assistance to soldiers.”

Money can pay for food, rent, utilities, emergency transportation and vehicle repairs, funeral expenses, medical and dental expenses, and personal need when pay is delayed or stolen. Undergraduate educational scholarships are also available according to need.

The relief can’t be used to pay for nonessentials, financing vacation, paying fines or legal expenses, liquidating debt, purchasing housing or covering bad checks and credit cards.

Eligible Army personnel include active-duty single or married soldiers and their dependents, National Guard or Reserve soldiers on continuous active duty for more than 30 days, retirees — from longevity or disability — and their dependents, and surviving spouses and orphans of deceased soldiers.

Soldiers don’t have to contribute to be eligible, and there’s no dollar limit on help.

Since it was established in 1942, AER has helped more than 3 million soldiers and family members with more than $992 million. Last year it assisted 50,000 Army personnel with more than $49 million.

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