Military ties run deep in Ridgecrest, Calif., a desert community of about 30,000 that was originally founded as Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the 1940s.
The community developed around the research and development facility until Ridgecrest was incorporated in 1963. Therefore, the military is inherently tied into almost everything that happens in Ridgecrest.
This includes Desert Valleys Federal Credit Union.
The $60 million asset credit union doesn’t necessarily have to seek out opportunities to celebrate the military and veteran communities. Those opportunities are tied into the membership base, and include sponsoring events such as pancake breakfasts or helping veterans get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“Our focus when it comes to showing military support is in the day-to-day stuff,” says Eric Bruen, president/CEO. “It translates into understanding who our members are, understanding what their needs are, and understanding what their expectations are for a good community-based financial institution. You can’t define yourself as a community-based financial institution and then completely disregard what the community is made of.”
The community’s makeup is clear, as Ridgecrest and China Lake Naval Base have had a symbiotic relationship since the community was founded. With that in mind, Bruen says if Desert Valleys Federal didn’t embrace the military, it would be turning its back on the community.
“Eighty percent of our local work force works for the base,” Bruen says, noting there are 14,000 to 15,000 base-centric members of the work force, many of whom are veterans and retirees from the base.
“Even if they are not servicemembers, they have directly impacted servicemembers through their mission,” adds Bruen, who’s also the mayor of Ridgecrest. “So the value of their service and their sacrifice is palpable.”
Ridgecrest recently held a parade and other events commemorating the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11. The community has held a commemorative event every year since 2001, with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic.
“[Community turnout] is where you distinguish what it means to be a military community,” says Bruen, who rode in the parade alongside his dad, Chuck Bruen, a former credit union CEO and Vietnam veteran. “There’s a respect that comes from how we treat each other. And it’s just innate in a military community. That’s what makes Ridgecrest so special.
“It’s so cool and almost magical in little ways to be in a community where, not only do you walk down the street and show respect to the military, but it’s also just part of the blood of the community. It’s there every day, not just on the 11th of November. It’s celebrated and it’s memorialized.”