For many CU executives involved in the program, it has been "a labor of love and a small measure of my patriotic duty during a perilous time" as one put it in describing the task of organizing and financing the holiday greeting telecasts on screens in bases from Alaska to Virginia.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, hundreds of parents, wives, sisters, sons and daughters of military men and women stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere engaged in those emotional exchanges thanks to the work of 17 military CUs, the Defense Credit Union Council and WesCorp, the California corporate.
"It is simply heartening to know that we in the credit union community have done our part to bring a little bit of happiness to those families gathered in a base conference hall to record messages to their loved ones overseas," said Bradley Smith, vice president of strategic development at the $530 million Pacific Marine Credit Union, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
And for another credit union, the $353 million America's Credit Union of Fort Lewis, Wash, "We jumped at the chance to offer this great program to families stationed at Fort Lewis," said Ken Leonard, president/CEO.
With so many troops from the Washington Army base readying for deployment, "Everyone knows what it is like being separated from loved ones this time of year, and so it is our hope, wish and gift to bring the soldiers and their loved ones together for a few special moments," said Leonard.
The video screenings have been part of the holiday routine at bases since 2004 when WesCorp, based in San Dimas, Calif., first initiated the program. Despite NCUA's conservatorship of WesCorp and elimination of direct financial support for Operation Best Wishes, the WesCorp staff has continued to help manage the program, transporting equipment and technicians to base sites and doing other chores to keep it functioning. The 17 participating natural person credit unions and the Defense Council have filled in the funding gaps.
During 2009, Best Wishes managers expect 960 video messages will be recorded as the popularity of the program has increased in some areas with more CU base sites added to the current list of 20. Participants are expected to top 2,700.
CUs like the $2.9 billion Ent FCU in Colorado Springs work extra hard to make the video settings comfortable for adults and youngsters alike during the taping sessions.
At a Dec.15 session in Ent's real estate center, participating families can enjoy free onsite activities, refreshments and activities for the kids. In addition, participants receive a free family photo from an onsite professional photographer paid by Ent.
At each site across the U.S., the WesCorp team sets up a mobile Web cast studio, complete with cameras, microphones and monitors. During a reserved time slot, the deployed military member can log in at his or her location and view the live message or watch it at a later time.
Participants also can respond immediately via a text messaging feature on the Website.
"We've been trying to get on Operation Best Wishes for the last couple of years and we were pleased we could do it for the first time this year with 42 families showing up at our Wheeler Army Airfield installation," said Paulette Ito, marketing vice president at the $480 million Hawaiian Tel Federal Credit Union of Honolulu.
A special feature at the Hawaiian Tel event were special care activities for soldier's wives, including massage, makeup and hair care services, all performed by credit union volunteers. Even Hawaii Lt. Gov. Duke Alano came to the Hawaiian Tel site to record a message to the troops.
Operation Best Wishes was slated to end Dec. 22 at New York's Fort Drum in Watertown with AmeriCU as sponsor and by then "the 2009 tour will have represented the most extensive number of credit unions ever to engage in hosting the one-day events," said WesCorp.