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Raising AER awareness

Retired SMA Michael Grinston visits JBLM to discuss

Retired U.S. Sgt. Maj. of the Army and Army Emergency Relief CEO, Michael Grinston conducts a focus group session with company and detachment first sergeants about AER on June 5, 2024, at the Family Resource Center. Photo credit: Spc. Brendon Donahue

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JOINT BASE LEWIS McCHORD - Michael Grinston, CEO of Army Emergency Relief and former Sgt. Maj. of the Army, paid a visit with senior leaders of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) on June 5-6, 2024.

The purpose of Grinston's visit was to solicit feedback on Army Emergency Relief (AER) programs, as well as raise awareness among the key base leadership.

"We want to know what we can do better from their perspective," Grinston said, "how can we better help the soldiers?"

AER is the official nonprofit of the U.S. Army that provides funds to help soldiers with immediate financial needs with rent, utilities, emergency travel, etc. AER also provides emergency funds to gold star families and offers undergraduate scholarships to spouses and children of both active and retired soldiers.

Grinston's goal is to make AER the primary resource for soldiers in need of financial assistance during emergencies, as well as additional resources and mentorship

"My vision is very simple," Grinston added, "to make a soldier's life worth living."

Grinston went on to explain to senior leaders that one of his goals for AER is to provide 100% emergency travel assistance so that a soldier in Alaska, for example, who needs to visit his home in Alabama during a family emergency isn't put in financial distress because of travel.

"If something happens and you have to fly back home, we don't want to burden you because you're in the Army, we want you to confidently live the soldier's life knowing AER is going to be there to support you."

One of the more impactful initiatives he's taken since becoming CEO of AER is giving up to 50% loans and grants for all emergency travel for soldiers that apply, even going up to a full grant depending on circumstances.

When asked what challenges AER is currently facing, Grinston said that their biggest challenge is also their number one concern, namely the soldier's basic needs.

"When a soldier comes to a new duty station, they have a basic need, they need a place to stay. That's our number one category, we help them get established with a loan or grant."

Grinston's visit also served to address misconceptions some people may have about the company itself.

"If AER isn't the organization at that moment to help you, we can point you to another who can. For one story about a soldier who misused funds, there's a million more about how they were used to help them and their families."

Grinston is the first formerly enlisted CEO of AER, he described how he only ever became Sgt. Maj. of the Army because he knew he could make a difference in the lives of soldiers and it's that motivation that led to him becoming CEO of AER, which he was previously a board member of.

"The Spark to head AER is that after 36 years, I still get to serve soldiers and their families."

The key takeaway from his visit is that Army leadership needs to make their soldiers aware of what assistance AER offers.

"We want to come tell people what their dollar actually goes to," Grinston closed with "I think once you hear about what we do and don't do, you'll want to contribute to that."

For more information, please visit the Army Emergency Relief web page,

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