ARLINGTON, Va. – Although they are not coordinating their efforts, a number of credit unions around the country which have relationships with military bases in their communities, are gearing up to help those bases avoid being closed or “reconfigured” as part of an upcoming Pentagon effort. Every few years since 1980, the U.S. military and government have undergone something called the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, which is supposed to help the military reorient itself to better use its resources to meet future threats. The last BRAC concluded in 1995 and the entire process has resulted in over 40 bases around the country being closed since 1998. Now various credit unions around the country are helping their communities make a case for their bases even before the next round of BRAC, which is slated for 2005, gets underway. “Credit unions are closely associated with their communities, so it’s not surprising that they would get involved in the BRAC process,” said Arty Arteaga, president of the Washington D.C.-based Defense Credit Union Council, which represents credit unions that serve members of the U.S. armed forces. Arteaga said the DCUC doesn’t know how many credit unions near military bases are involved in the effort, but he noted that credit unions have helped nearby bases during previous BRAC processes and that the number doing so again would likely increase as the next BRAC drew closer. The efforts from different credit unions have ranged widely in terms of effort and expense. Leading the way in terms of expense, at least so far, is the $744 million Robins Federal Credit Union based in Warner Robins, Ga. The credit union has announced that it will contribute $500,000 to a study that will research economic and military reasons the nearby Robins Air Force Base should stay open. Although, the credit union had the base as its single sponsor for most of its life, the institution moved to a community charter in 2001, according to Sherry Meeks, public relations specialist for the credit union. Meeks said that the credit union’s links to the community could be seen in the fact that the credit union’s assets have increased by $240 million since it had expanded its charter, even though it was unclear how many of its members still retained a primary relationship to the base. The $247 million Red River Federal Credit Union is also involved, both by giving $25,000 to a fund dedicated to helping the community of Texarkana, Texas, lobby in favor of the of the Red River Army Depot and by opening an account into which credit union members, employees and depot employees can make payroll deposits. Doug Norton, senior vice president for the credit union, said that the institution didn’t have statistics yet for how many people were donating to the account, but that the Depot had allowed its 1,000 employees to leave work early recently in order to make their way to the credit union and fill out payroll deposit forms for the account. Norton noted that the credit union has 56,000 members across a pretty diverse collection of employee groups and that just in terms of the credit union, the loss of the Depot would not be a catastrophic loss, “But there is no doubt that the loss of 1,000 jobs from the Depot and 1,500 jobs from another military agency that uses the Depot would be a real loss to this community,” Norton said. By contrast, Bill Hicks, marketing director for the $375 million Heritage Trust Federal Credit Union said his credit union may go no farther in the effort to protect the Charleston Air Force Base than promoting the need to contact Congressional representatives. The town of Charleston lost a major naval base to a previous BRAC eight to 10 years ago, he said, and he would find it hard to believe that they would come to close another base in such a short amount of time. But he added that the credit union was aware of the potential and was planning to keep an eye out for the possibility. -dmorrison@cutimes.com