From both the business and humanitarian side, the military drawdown in Iraq is generating scores of new products, projects and services for U.S. military credit unions whose executives recently gathered in Minneapolis to hear and discuss some of the most promising.
The setting was the 47th annual Defense Credit Union Council conference, which drew 300 of the top CU brass for the four-day gathering at the Hilton Minneapolis.
"We're honored that our credit union can play an important role now in helping provide both the critical financial needs and support for the dedicated service men and women returning now from the Iraq mission," said Karl Murphy, president/CEO of the $710 million Firstlight FCU of El Paso, Tex.
Among a host of new Firstlight ventures launched for Iraq returnees and trumpeted during President Obama's visit to the Fort Bliss Army Base was the giveaway of space in a recently opened branch facility to house USO operations.
The idea of sharing about a third of the facility's 6,500 square feet with the USO "was certainly one way we could provide support to this important organization," said Murphy. In addition, the credit union is also sponsoring kids' football camps, water park outings, literacy clinics and more to demonstrate its support for the returning troops and spouses.
Also stepping up to help the latest returnees is the $1.7 billion Service CU of Portsmouth, N.H., which outlined a series of savings and loan offers as it is "prepared to help our military members and their families face many unique challenges, financial and otherwise, during deployment, relocation and post-deployment."
Service CU, said a spokeswoman, will be urging its members to take advantage of "exclusive price benefits with the Warrior Rewards Program including a Warrior Savings product."
Moreover, "military members serving in a combat zone can earn 10% APY on savings while deployed, and, in addition, Warriors can receive a one percentage point bonus on a special certificate rate and a percentage point off most loans, said the spokeswoman. "For newly enlisted, Service Credit Union's STAR program offers higher deposit rates and lower loan rates."
Service CU said it also will be stepping up its participation in Peace Greeters, which supports troops departing and returning from overseas missions by greeting them at the Portsmouth airport.
"Members of the credit union regularly volunteer and the credit union provides a monthly monetary donation to make sure arriving and departing troops receive a heroes' welcome," said a Service release.
At the Minneapolis DCUC conference, Keith Dove, the trade group's liaison officer to the Marine Corps, suggested CUs be aware that military members coming out of the Iraq zone would likely be drawing down savings urging CUs undertake campaigns to encourage a return to those products.
The DCUC meeting also noted that the big issue of the day was the heightened competition from USAA Financial, a services firm, in providing on-base branches and ATMs.
On that, "all of the speakers emphasized that both the Department of the Navy and the Marine Corp strongly supported the one bank/one credit union policy," said DCUC. "USAA would only be allowed o come on base by winning the traditional open solicitation process."
Also at the conference, three CUs, Fort Sill FCU in Oklahoma, Navy FCU and Harborstone CU, Tacoma, Wash. were recipients of the Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor bestowed by DCUC covering respective branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Although criteria differs slightly for each branch, the three were cited for exceptional delivery of services, community support and financial education and leadership plus other elements.
Fort Sill received the Army Award for "outstanding commitment to provide quality products and efficient service" to soldiers and their families particularly to junior enlisted officers in the area of literacy as well as development of wireless products. It was the second year in a row Fort Sill has won the award.
Navy FCU's Souda Bay Branch in Crete, Greece won the Navy/Marine Corps Award for its "dedication, attention to detail, extraordinary performance, and outstanding command support." The Souda Bay team was also recognized for its "participation with the welcoming committee, offering on-the-spot financial assistance as well as volunteering to remain open after normal branch hours to meet sailors' needs."
Harborstone was honored with the Air Force Award for its "steadfast support of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, with ongoing fundraising activities" involving spouses clubs and retiree groups.
The Washington State CU was also cited for its "quick response to provide breakfast to the 6,000 police officers and firefighters who came to memorial services held at McChord Field for four local police officers targeted and killed by an ex-convict." The CU, said DCUC, "was instrumental in raising the needed funds, getting local grocery stores to donate food and even making the sandwiches."