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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – With Operation Iraqi Freedom in full swing, credit unions across the country are doing what they can to support those on the front lines and the families left behind. Although Alaska USA Federal Credit Union has honored the military for the past six years, given current events this year’s ceremony seemed particularly poignant. During a breakfast attended by over 50 people, representatives from the Army, Marines, Air Force, Navy Coast Guard, National Guard and Reserves were recognized as Outstanding Enlisted Personnel of the Year. “The armed forces have a long, proud history here in Alaska and around the nation,” said Alaska USA FCU President Bill Eckhardt. “We are proud to support America’s military and their families and this event gives us the chance to thank them for all they do for our country and our state.” Considering its efforts simply “a patriotic duty” St. Cloud, Minnesota-based Great Rivers Federal Credit Union has launched an awareness campaign explaining the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act in two local papers here. Under SSCRA, any military personnel called for active duty are automatically eligible for debt relief. Passed during World War II, SSCRA applies to various types of debt, including auto loans, credit cards, and mortgages. Under this law, once someone is called to active duty, their lenders must reduce the interest rate on their loan to 6%. Monthly payments also must be reduced. Scheduled to run every other day for the next week, the “open letter” ads also review what steps and paperwork are needed to take advantage of SSCRA. In addition to the campaign, the $110 million credit union has generously reduced all reservists’ loan rates to 4.75% instead of the federally required 6%. “We are pretty patriotic so this is not just the federal requirement. We are going one step beyond that. Once soldiers return to their civilian status, we are not going to return the rate to what it was,” said GRFCU President/CEO Jim Leyk. So far only four reservists have taken advantage of the credit union’s permanent rate reduction offer, Leyk is hoping the awareness campaign will boost those numbers. As if slashing rates and an advertising campaign weren’t enough, add wedding planner to the credit union’s resume. Although the couple had plans to marry in the fall, when GRFCU Financial Service Representative Jennifer Rau’s fianc Jason Philippi was recently told he would ship out to the Middle East in 48 hours, Rau was not only given time off to visit a justice of the peace to get married, but staffers here also chipped in to pay for the honeymoon suite. Wedding bells also literally rang at La Loma Federal Credit Union, which served as the intimate setting for Corporal Steven Salazar and Nancy Fox as they took their vows just hours before Salazar shipped out to Kuwait. Salazar’s plans to propose to Fox in April on their third anniversary quickly changed when he was called for active duty. Knowing her brother wanted to get married before he left, La Loma FCU staffer Marissa Owen talked to co-worker Loretta Voges whose husband is a licensed Baptist minister and started making wedding plans. “We normally close by 3:15 on Fridays so right after the last member left we were busy decorating,” said La Loma FCU Marketing/Business Development Representative Sonya Wallace. In less than three hours, employees at the $50 million credit union put together a ceremony and reception complete with an aisle lined by silk flower arrangements and plants, a floral altar, fresh flowers for boutonnieres and the bride’s bouquet; sparkling cider; wedding cake and even a videographer. After cutting the wedding cake the couple opened their joint account. “I know this isn’t what we planned,” said the bride. “He always talked about wanting to give me a fairy tale wedding. But to me, this is a fairy tale.” When students from Judy Sandoval’s Spanish classes at Nederland High School decided to “adopt” some soldiers, Nederland, Texas-based DuPont Beaumont Credit Union offered to serve as the drop zone for care packages. Six boxes of items were collected and shipped out by the credit union. Some of the packages included lip balm, tissues, toothbrushes, paste, bottled water, fly strips, Oreo cookies, books and magazines and nuts and other snack food items. In Wisconsin, Superior Community Credit Union has been accepting donations for the Red Cross’ Operation Northland Comfort. The program is collecting comfort items, such as candy and toiletries, to bring a connection from home to active duty soldiers. Over in Madison, Dane County Credit Union volunteered to be a drop off site for basic, everyday items that were being donated to help make life easier for a longtime member’s son and his fellow soldiers who are stationed in the Middle East. Staffers boxed up to 160 care packages that went to 40 recipients. In Toms River, New Jersey, Mon-Oc Federal Credit Union has kicked off a new Military Relief Program designed to help deployed or mobilized credit union members. The program includes fee waivers for money orders, traveler’s checks, online Bill Payer and early withdrawals of Savings Certificates and IRAs. “Our services also include a free financial planning session with a financial counselor who has considerable experience working with members of the military and their families during the Gulf War,” said Mon-Oc FCU Vice President of Marketing/Branch Operations Jane Wittman-Roll. “Our goal is just to help our members during this stressful period.” Knowing how comforting messages of encouragement can help troop morale, Alexandria, Virginia-based Pentagon Federal Credit Union is accepting donations for “Operation USO Care Package.” Sponsored by the USO World Headquarters and administered by the USO of Metropolitan Washington, Operation USO Care enables individuals to send a personal message and financially support care packages to be delivered to service members. The care packages contain the postcard greetings and an assortment of items the military have specifically requested, such as prepaid international calling cards, disposable cameras, toiletries, and sunscreen. [email protected]

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