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GROTON, Conn. – The banner ads placed late last month by Charter Federal Oak Credit Union in Groton newspapers said it all, “WE DID IT!” and the “It” of course, was sparing the U.S. Navy Submarine Base from a Pentagon shutdown, a decision made by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission and which brought lusty cheers from employees of the $460 million CU. “We’re dancing in the clouds-we’re like a bunch of kids that just won the championship at a high school football game,” was how Rick Stout, senior vice president of operations, summed up the mood of the “Save Our Sub Base” campaigners after the BRAC Commission voted Aug. 25 to reject Pentagon recommendations. While the BRAC decision on Groton was a huge relief to civic leaders here after months of nail biting, there was disappointment and quiet concern among CU executives in other U.S. cities where a military base faces the chopping block or major realignments. “Look, BRAC has certainly given us another challenge, but let me tell you that when one of my members asks me now what’s going to happen to their credit union, my answer is simple-nothing,” declared Michael Guida, president of Fort Monroe CU in Hampton, Va, where the U.S Army installation employing 4,100 and whose roots date to the Colonial era, was ordered closed. Guida said his $22 million Fort Monroe CU, which this year posted a 23% loan gain and is financially healthy, has plenty of time to adjust to a base closing including relocation of a branch on base property. Looking at the Katrina devastation, there was irony now that the Fort Monroe branch on base had been moved there from a free-standing CU facility, which had been blown away a year and a half ago by Hurricane Isabelle. Like other CU executives and civic leaders puzzled by the Defense Department decision to close bases now during war time and national uncertainty, Guida said “there is enough fear in the lives of our soldiers and their families that they shouldn’t have to worry” about their financial livelihood and the state of their financial institution. Another base closing – but on a four-year time delay – is now facing the $30 million Cannon FCU in Clovis, N.M. where the Cannon Air Base was stripped of its F-16 squadrons and told to find a new mission to remain open by 2009. “They gave us a reprieve,” said Diane Antill, president of Cannon, who like other CU executives elsewhere had lobbied with Congressional delegations and state governors to plead their case with BRAC for local bases to stay open. “We have 18 months now until the fighter wing leaves the area so we can now prepare a strategic plan for our credit union,” said Antill, noting the CU board was to meet last week to develop a plan. She declined to spell out what steps the CU might take to offset the loss of members and local jobs. As with Charter Oak in Groton, Conn., Antill and members of senior management had taken part in huge local rallies with Gov. Bill Richardson trying to pump up the crowd during one Clovis stop last May. “I want to congratulate the BRAC commissioners for doing a very good job-they just didn’t rubber stamp the Pentagon requests but carefully analyzed the impact on the local economy,” concluded Antill. And in Connecticut, Stout of Charter Oak noted that his CU “had a group of 25 of our employees that we lent to the Save Our Sub Base committee” with staffers waving flags and standing on street corners greeting BRAC commissioners as they drove by on their way to hearing sites. Charter Oak also helped man telephone banks purchased more than a hundred “Save Our Submarine Base” T Shirts that were passed out to employees and members. The “We Did It” slogan has now been placed over the “Save Our Sub Base” banners displayed on all Charter Oak branches. “From the very beginning, we took a position of being very proactive in all of the efforts taking place to save the sub base,” said Stout. “The base is something that everyone within our field of membership and indeed the entire region, identifies with.” Apart from T-shirts and ads, Charter Oak, he said, also produced and distributed 10,000 bumper stickers with the CU receiving “a lot of recognition and praise” adding, “I must tell you that the comments from our more than 75,000 members have been particularly gratifying. Another BRAC “winner” was the $42 million Sentinel FCU of Box Elder, S.D. serving the big Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City and the state’s second largest employer. “This is just fabulous news,” exulted Roger Heacock, president/CEO of the $529 million Black Hills FCU, after receiving word of the BRAC decision. Black Hills FCU, the state’s largest, has also been an active participant in a local campaign to protect the base, home of the B-1 bomber and providing a $250 million economic base with 5,000 jobs at stake. Nancy Ellwein, president/CEO of Sentinel which has its main office on the base, said “more than half of my staff attended that downtown meeting when BRAC was in town back in June.” Sentinel with 7,500 members “had been prepared for an impact from a closing,” though last year the CU received a community charter and opened a branch in Winner, located in central South Dakota. Heacock of Black Hills said his staff “had a fairly good feeling” that the base could be spared based “on some very compelling information that was presented about the dangers of keeping all your eggs in one basket” as a reminder of what occurred in World War II at Pearl Harbor. Heacock was referring to the Pentagon’s original plan to consolidate B-1s at a Texas base but which would put military hardware at risk in the event of a terrorist attack. Joseph Boyle, director of planning, programming and special projects for NAFCU, lauded several CUs for “being ahead of the curve” in doing advance planning months – or even years ago – for BRAC realignments. He cited Fort Knox FCU in Radcliff, Ky. and Randolph Brooks FCU in Universal City, Tex. as two examples. Fort Knox, he said, has already sent advance information packets on the CU to military personnel slated to relocate to Fort Knox. Meanwhile, Randolph Brooks built “a special rapport” years ago with training personnel slated to relocate from Pensacola, Fla. to Texas. Fort Knox is also making liquidity adjustments in its portfolio to accommodate an influx of home mortgages once troops relocate from overseas and elsewhere to the Kentucky army base, said Boyle. The CU is also making sure accounts can be easily transferred without hassles. Still another CU enjoying a BRAC reprieve is Alaska USA FCU in Anchorage whose senior staff also took an active part in a statewide campaign to save Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks. “In our meetings early on, we always focused not so much on the community impact but on the military operations and tried to persuade the commissioners there were compelling reasons to keep the base open,” said Nancy Usera, senior vice president of corporate development at Alaska USA, which has five branches in the Fairbanks area. Despite the latest BRAC decisions which came down during the week of Aug. 22, Roland Arteaga, president of the Defense Credit Union Council, warned that the BRAC process still has a way to go with final recommendations going to President Bush Sept 8. Congress still has a chance to reject all or part of the recommendations though Washington insiders say that is unlikely. History shows that at this stage, said Arteaga, “60% of the closures or realignments on the list are not likely to come off – very remote.” So CUs on military bases “ought to start considering now-Do you want to buy the land under your building? Now may be a good opportunity to make that decision.” [email protected]

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