The U.S. Army has a long history of partnering with civilian financial institutions around the world to help Soldiers successfully manage their personal financial responsibilities so they have the ability to focus on performing their wartime duties and missions.
Individual financial readiness directly ties into the family, social, emotional, physical and spiritual readiness pillars and is critical in providing combatant commanders with the personnel and resources they need to fight and win the nation’s wars, said Maj. Jose Rivera, U.S. Army Financial Management Command Army banking officer.
To recognize and strengthen the critical partnership between the Army and civilian financial institutions serving Soldiers and their families, USAFMCOM presented the Army Distinguished Bank and Credit Union Service Awards during the Association of Military Banks of America and Defense Credit Union Council annual meetings in San Antonio and Washington D.C. last month.
“Our Army’s partnerships with our banking and credit union allies means everything to us because they take care of our most-treasured assets – our people,” said Col. Paige M. Jennings, USAFMCOM commander, while presenting the awards to Navy Federal Credit Union at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Meade and First Heroes National Bank at Fort Hood, Texas.
Nominees for the awards were judged on four criteria, which included above-and-beyond initiatives, special services provided to the command, financial education services, and combating predatory lending practices.
“It’s no secret that the last few years for our Army, nation and world were difficult, and faced with a global pandemic not seen in generations, our Army and those who support its Soldiers and their families were forced to adapt,” said Jennings. “The award recipients met those challenges head-on by actively volunteering and supporting their installation’s community in a wide variety of ways.”
This included assisting customers by deferring late fees for consumer loans, allowing forbearance on mortgage loan payments and granting forbearance on past-due student loan payments.
The financial institutions also maintained close relationships with Army Community Services as an additional resource for members seeking counseling services or Army Emergency Relief services.
At many institutions, AER checks were negotiated free of charge for all service members, regardless of membership, and eligible members experiencing financial hardship were offered low-rate financial hardship loans based on need or were also offered the mortgage deferral program to provide relief and peace of mind.
Many of the institutions nominated also remained open as full-service branches throughout the pandemic to meet the financial needs of service members while keeping the safety of customers and employees a top priority.
“Recently, we’ve seen a trend with financial institution services changing due to both technology and COVID-19,” said Rivera. “There’s an evolution of their services to online banking, but when a Soldier has a financial issue, face-to-face time with a financial counselor or banking professional goes a long way.”
That education piece is critical to overall financial readiness, said Jennings.
Both awarded institutions provided financial literacy training on topics like building credit, digital services, loans, mortgages and smart financial practices.
They also worked to fight back against predatory lending practices that take advantage of junior Soldiers’ lack of financial experience and offer them high-interest loans that keep them indebted for years and often create financial and security clearance issues down the road, explained Rivera.
Across the nominees, the banks and credit unions also gave back to their installations and surrounding communities by donating time and contributions at various food, toy, school supply and awareness campaigns, according the nomination packages.
“Whenever the Army banking program receives the nomination, it’s important to know that we select external stakeholders to provide unbiased selection process and review of each packet to ensure consistency and transparency throughout the process,” said Rivera.
For nearly four decades, USAFMCOM has presented the awards on behalf of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller. Similar awards are also presented at both conferences by the Departments of the Navy and Air Force to the financial institutions that service their installations.
“This was first established in 1984 and served as an opportunity for the Army to express gratitude for what those financial institutions do for our Soldiers,” explained Rivera. “It’s not an endorsement, but rather a recognition of them going above and beyond their service agreement requirements.”
With the awards presented, Rivera is now back doing his daily job working with the banks to serve Soldiers and their families from USAFMCOM’s headquarters in Indianapolis.
“I continue to work with the service organizations and financial institutions so they are aware of any changes to Army policy,” he concluded. “That partnership is key in ensuring better clarity and faster implementation of policies that better serve our people.”