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Fewer soldiers are donating to Army Emergency Relief. Here’s why that’s a problem.

Fewer than 10 percent of soldiers are contributing to Army Emergency Relief — and the largest group of donors aren’t even the ones who use it the most, the organization’s director said Tuesday.

The majority of soldiers who take advantage of AER’s financial assistance services are E-5s and E-6s, in large part because of the phase of life they’re in, said retired Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason.

But the soldiers most likely to donate are often their subordinates — E-4s and below.

“They’re company-based,” Mason said of the more junior soldiers. “Their friends, their buddies are probably using AER. Word of mouth spreads — ‘Hey, AER took care of me, you all ought to donate.’ So, they’re a little closer to the action.”

Mason said the more senior the soldier, the less connected to the company, which could be one reason for the growing lack of financial support for AER, whose mission is to help the Army take care of its own.

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Each year, AER provides $70 million in grants and loan assistance, for things like car repairs, rent payments and more, with no interest charged to soldiers and their families. The organization, which works closely with Army Community Services, relies entirely on donations.

In the recent past, when Mason himself was on active duty, about 60 percent of soldiers invested in AER, he said. But nearly two decades of war ― coupled with more families living off base and the growing number of military-focused nonprofits also competing for donations ― could be contributing to the lower buy-in.

“Soldiers have been deployed, they come back, they’re just not focused on these types of things,” Mason said.

Mason’s main concern isn’t finances; the organization also gets donations from the retired and civilian populations and will be “fine.”

“I don’t care how much money it is. That’s not the point,” he said. “When you reach in your back pocket and help your buddy on your right and left you are bonding to a team, you are bonding to the Army. That’s what this is about.”

The creed “Leave no comrade behind” is as important on the home front as it is on the battlefield, he said.

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