There have been two constant threads in Bryan Fox’s life since he was a teenager: the military and the credit union movement.
More than 45 years later, the retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general remains invested in both, serving on the board at $106 million asset Russell Country Federal Credit Union in Great Falls, Mont., while gathering with veterans twice a year to go over unclassified briefings and current events.
“You want to be happy for a day? Go fishing. But if you want to be happy for a lifetime? Volunteer for something that adds value to America,” Fox says. “To me, that's one of the highest callings there is.”
Fox has answered the call since 1976, when he graduated from high school in Great Falls and enlisted in the Montana Air National Guard as an aircraft mechanic and crew chief. His credit union career started soon after, as he joined the Russell Country Federal Credit Union board in 1981.
In the ensuing years, he’s worked with eight Russell Country Federal CEOs while navigating name changes, mergers, and the evolution of the financial services industry.
“I see credit unions similar to rural post offices,” Fox says. “We provide small communities with a critical service.”
He stayed invested in that service throughout a military career that included deployments to at least 13 countries, as well as activations to disasters such as floods and wildfires. Fox was commissioned as an officer in 1989, with assignments over the next few decades in functions including logistics, human resources, comptroller, Communications Squadron Commander, and more.
From December 2005 until May 2006, he served as commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron during a combat tour at Balad Air Base in Iraq.
Upon returning home, he was assigned to the joint force headquarters in Helena, Mont. After serving as the chief of staff, he spent his final four years in the service as the commanding general of the Montana Air National Guard.
Fox felt a degree of sadness when he left the service in 2018, but he was ready to move on.
“I knew we had a strong bench behind me,” Fox says, noting that the three main changes during his career were the change to an all-volunteer force, the introduction of women in the military, and the onset of computers. “A four-star general told me one time, ‘We're going to welcome you on the bus, but there's going to be a day that comes where we’re going to ask you to get off the bus.’ When that day came for me, I didn't have any heartburn about stepping off the bus. I'm so grateful for such a rewarding career.”
He learned a lot while on that bus. Many of the lessons were also relevant to his credit union board service, as he says the two institutions have many similarities.
Fox believes both volunteer organizations seek people who want to serve, have a passion for learning, and aspire for mission success.
“The military taught me to be engaged, disciplined, flexible, professional, and dependable,” he says. “I learned how to run a meeting effectively, how to keep it on track, how to give everyone a voice, and how to mechanize diversity of thought in the decision-making process by creating an environment of trust and respect.”
At Russell Country Federal, he’s seen those focuses translate to a board that’s excited to work together, communicates honestly, and takes responsibility for their actions.
“The board and CEO are accountable for the final decisions, and we own the success or failure of those decisions,” Fox says, adding that serving in Iraq taught him how to innovate, work as a team, and make decisions quickly. “You’ve just got to make decisions and move on.”
Fox continues to learn daily. He also spends a significant amount of time visiting his children and grandchildren, hiking Montana’s national parks, and traveling.
He still finds time for credit unions, military, and the three other not-for-profit boards he sits on. “I must have been born with the seed to serve.”