With Closure List Announced, Defense CUs Are Sighing-Or Buying

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Reaction among defense credit unions to the latest Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC) recommendations has been a predictable "let's wait and see what happens" and "we saw it coming." But some credit unions might be looking into property values in the near future.

Defense Credit Union Council President Roland Arteaga said credit unions should continue what they're doing as the BRAC process still has to be submitted to the president and approved by Congress. "We look at the BRAC process as having many steps," Arteaga said of the effort to shutter and consolidate military facilities.

But Arteaga also noted that while credit unions closely associated with military bases are in a holding pattern, it's definitely time to examine every possibility, including the ground beneath them. "If you're on the list now, you're basically 60% through the process," he said. "Start looking at the possibility of buying land."

Many military CUs are located on U.S. government property and facilities and have neither property nor facilities of their own.

Most, if not all, base closure recommendations had been on previous lists, such as the historic Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va. Arteaga said he had a "gut feeling" Fort Monroe would be on the list this time.

Fort Monroe Credit Union President Michael Guida is already looking at acquiring land. Guida said his 6,000-member CU has its main branch off-post with a small, but very successful, branch at the Fort Monroe PX.

"I don't know at this point when the PX will close. It's way too early in the process to determine," he said.

Guida said to him BRAC stands for "Be Ready and Committed," and that he's going to stay focused on members and the soldiers his CU serves every day. Regardless of buying land or leasing an existing space, Guida said he's staying the credit union course.

"Fort Monroe Credit Union is not going anywhere, I can tell you that," he insisted.

In Groton, Conn., the community waged a major battle to save the nation's oldest submarine base. Even former President Jimmy Carter, a Navy man, got involved at one point. Charter Oak FCU SVP Rick Stout first landed in the community when his sailor father moved the family to Groton in 1949. The credit union was formerly known as Electric Boat FCU.

Stout said the local economy had been on hold while the BRAC commission made its decisions. With residents delaying major purchases such as new cars, Stout said he now expects a surge in spending before returning to normal. "You can't even begin to put a monetary value on what this means to our community," he said.

The sub base had been removed from the closure list in 1995 and was spared again after commissioners rejected a Pentagon plan to close it. Stout said it will be impossible to determine what the next 10 years would bring for the area but won't be surprised by another battle over the base. "Will it happen again? It probably will," Stout said.

Ashley Smith, marketing director for Navy Army FCU in Corpus Christi, Texas, said the credit union had converted to a community charter in early 2004 in recognition that Naval Air Station Corpus Christi might be shut down. "We've been preparing for it. We've known about it for a while and knew it might happen," she said.

Navy Army FCU had a branch on the air station and leased a smaller office space in anticipation. Smith said the $354-million CU has a diversified base serving 49,000 members.

Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, where Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles and Patriot missile batteries are refurbished, was also spared. Red River EFCU President Robert Buck said the effort to save the base was full of anxiety and hard work. The $275-million CU held raffles, fish fries and even sold cookbooks to raise money for lobbyists and staff trips to Washington, D.C. Red River was removed from the 1995 list as it was deemed too valuable to national security.

"We're hoping everything is a done deal," he said. "It would have been severe for our area."

The president will have until Sept. 23 to accept or reject the recommendations in their entirety. If accepted, Congress will have 45 legislative days to reject the recommendations in their entirety or they become binding on the department.

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