FORT BLISS -- Since World War II, the Army Emergency Relief program has helped soldiers and their families get through financial hardships.
That will continue no matter what happens with the economy or the budget impasse in Washington, its national director said.
On Wednesday, retired Lt. Gen. Robert F. Foley, national chief of the nonprofit organization, visited Fort Bliss to help kick off the program's annual fundraising campaign.
Foley, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War, spoke about the organization, how it helps soldiers and how it funds itself.
Today, Army Emergency Relief provides about $80 million a year in aid to soldiers and their families through interest-free loans and some grants, Foley said.
Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, commander of Fort Bliss and the 1st Armored Division, called Foley a "living legend" and one of his heroes when he introduced him at the Centennial Club.
Foley received his Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," according to the award citation.
A captain at the time, Foley helped to rally his men in the face of strong enemy fire, helped to evacuate two radio operators who were wounded and led his company's action against the enemy in an hourslong battle near Quan Dau Tieng in South Vietnam in 1966.
He was wounded by a grenade blast but refused medical help and continued to help lead the attack on the enemy position.
He was cited for singlehandedly destroying three enemy gun positions.
Foley has been the program's national director since 2005 as a "labor of love," Pittard said. Foley, a 1963 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, served in the Army for 37 years, earning a slew of medals and other honors.
He will visit about 35 Army installations around the country and in Germany during the program's annual fundraising campaign. His goal is to educate Army leaders, soldiers and the public about what the organization does.
The program helps soldiers and families pay for unexpected expenses such as medical bills, car repair bills, or a deposit on an apartment or home when they move for a new assignment.
About 90 percent of the aid it provides is through interest-free loans and 10 percent is through grants, Foley said.
By helping soldiers remove financial distractions, the program allows them to focus on their mission, he said.
"That's one of the primary things we do: We don't want them distracted by medical bills, dental bills or any other bill they are worried about," Foley said.
The organization's staff members are well trained and credentialed and have great latitude in determining who and which circumstances can qualify for help, Foley said.
Army Emergency Relief provides the type of help that can keep soldiers and their families from having to turn to payday lenders, Foley said.
"We're interest-free loans," he said. "We don't charge 30 percent, 100 percent, 300 percent. We want them to come to us as the organization of choice."
Last year, Fort Bliss raised $242,000 for the program during the annual campaign, but the installation's soldiers and families received nearly $4 million back in help, Pittard said.
That's about a 16-to-1 return rate, Pittard noted.
The organization also gets unsolicited donations from corporations, foundations, organizations and the defense industry, Foley said.
It invests money it isn't using for operations, and last year, it received a 12 percent rate of return, Foley said.
"Regardless of what the U.S. economy, the global economy or the Army budget looks like, we will have the resources to meet the demands of soldiers and their families," Foley said.
About 95 percent of its loans are repaid, which is another strong source of revenue and provides a constant cash flow, Foley noted.
"Soldiers want to pay back their loans," he said. "They know when they pay them back, they will be there for someone else."