CAMP PENDELTON, Calif. – For one young U.S. Marine in Kuwait, the letter he received from home was the highlight of his day. It mattered little that it was his statement from Pacific Marine Credit Union at the Camp Pendelton Marine Corps base, where he had been stationed until being deployed to the Gulf. "He sent us a letter and said, `I just received my statement. I haven't received any mail since I've been over here. This is the first piece of mail I've gotten,'" reported Brad Smith, vice president of strategic development for the credit union. "He was so excited about getting it. He said, `You are now a part of my family.' He was excited just to get his statement." Smith said soldiers appreciate getting letters from home – whether from friends and family or even from youngsters in school. "These are young men and women over there that for the most part really need to know that they're appreciated . . . that the American people appreciate what they're doing," he said. "It's difficult to fathom how much of an impact that makes on their morale." Lou DeCarlo, chief executive officer of the credit union and a retired Marine Corps officer, was so touched by the lance corporal's letter about receiving his statement that he responded personally, offering words of encouragement to the corpsman. Camp Pendelton, one of the largest Marine Corps bases in the U.S., has seen thousands of its troops shipped overseas for the war in Iraq. The base is normally home to about 35,000 Marines. The credit union, meantime, has seen its ranks depleted when staff members left to return to their parents' home after their spouses were deployed. Some 43 employees have spouses who were sent to the Gulf, Smith said. Most heavily affected was the credit union's call center, where nearly half of its 18 staff members departed. That left half the staff to answer call volume which nearly doubled to 40,000 calls a month. Those positions have since been filled with employees from other branches and temporary help, Smith said. Smith said it was not unusual for spouses of service personnel to return to their parents during a deployment. He said he did not expect them to return to work. Months prior to the Marines being shipped out, the credit union offered "pre-deployment training," which advised the troops going overseas on what they or their spouses needed to do to pay the bills and sustain their families. Sessions included power of attorney and how to set up accounts to allow proper access. "The on-base branches (at Camp Pendelton and Twentynine Palms) were both impacted vastly by questions, setting up accounts and doing the things that needed to be done," Smith said. Smith noted another impact on the credit union was "how quickly our shares have risen." "These guys can't spend their money because they're over in the desert," he said, noting the exact same thing occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. "When they come back the economy here is going to be booming because these young men are going to be spending their money." Pacific Marine, with about $350 million in assets and 65,000 members, operates six branches. The majority of its members are in the Marine Corps, with 60% of its membership between the ages of 18 and 24. -

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