Aside from a brief period about six years ago, Jere Matty, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Coordinator at Arnold Air Force Base, had essentially worked for the U.S. Air Force since the age of 18.
“That’s why tomorrow is going to be so unusual because I’ve never not worked for the Air Force,” Matty said with a smile on the eve of his last day and on what he described as the “best job ever.”
“It’s pretty crazy. In one capacity or the other, either military or civil service, I’ve always been working for the Air Force, which has been pretty good to me. I can’t complain at all. It’s really been great.”
Matty retired on March 8. Of the 44 years he worked for the Air Force, more than 35 were spent at Arnold in various capacities.
Following his 1974 graduation from Indian River High School in his hometown of Chesapeake, Virginia, Matty enrolled in the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During his time there, he served as an instructor pilot in the Academy’s Soaring Program. In this role, he conducted flight tests of the academy’s SGS 2-32 sailplane and trained more than 30 students in all aspects of sailplane flight. He has been a sailplane instructor ever since.
After graduating from the academy in 1978, Matty went straight into Undergraduate Pilot Training at the now-closed Reese Air Force Base near Lubbock, Texas. He said it was there that he was fortunate enough to be selected as a T-38 Talon flight instructor.
Matty was then sent to Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio to become an advanced jet pilot training instructor. He worked in this capacity for a while, but a health issue prompted Matty to ask Air Force officials if there was anything else he could do.
Having earned his bachelor’s in aeronautical engineering from the Air Force Academy, Air Force officials decided to put that degree to use.
“At the time, they were really short of engineers,” Matty said. “They were paying engineers bonuses to stay.”
Matty’s wife, Rosemary, his high school sweetheart who also joined the Air Force after graduating alongside her future husband, was also an engineer. Rosemary studied mechanical engineering at the University of Virginia and earned her master’s from Texas Tech University.
After their assignment at Reese AFB, the couple was sent to Arnold AFB.
“Well, it turns out for two engineers it doesn’t really get any better than Arnold. The second we got here, we thought, ‘This place is fantastic. We need to stay here.’”
The couple would get to remain at Arnold, as their Air Force commitments ran out. Rosemary went to work for one of the contractors then at Arnold and later became a civil servant for the Air Force, and Matty continued to work as a project engineer in the Re-entry Systems Testing Branch.
Matty, who earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee Space Institute, would later become a project engineer for the Space System Testing Branch, the Facility Development Branch and the Facility Development Planning Branch. He also served as chief of the Propulsion Tech Flight, Tech Division, lead engineer for several teams in the Applied Technology Division, and technical director and later chief of the Applied Technology Division.
From 2006 to 2012, Matty worked as the deputy director of the Space & Missile Ground Test Complex. He retired from this post in 2012, but his time away from Arnold would be short lived.
After a couple of months at home, Matty received a call from the technical director at Arnold to ask if he would be interested in returning as a retired annuitant to serve as the Base STEM coordinator. The position offered the opportunity to instruct – something with which Matty was already familiar – but also the chance to work with children throughout the area and bolster their interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
The STEM program was relatively new when Matty took over in 2012. This allowed him a good deal of autonomy in the design of Arnold’s program. Matty was given a budget and space near Arnold Lakeside Center to house the Arnold AFB STEM Center.
“It was really very visionary for the leadership here at Arnold to designate a slot for a full-time STEM person,” he said.
According to Matty, more than 10,000 students across 50 schools have been involved in Arnold’s STEM program. Along with going out into the schools, Matty said the effort has been successful through the numerous teams and activities that make up the program, such as the Reach for the Stars National Rocket Competition, VEX Robotics Competition, AEDC STEM Summer Camp, FIRST LEGO League, Junior FIRST LEGO League, CyberPatriot and Team American Rocketry Challenge.
It was recently announced that the Arnold STEM Center would close and, through an Air Force partnership, learning tools and support would be transferred to the Hands-On Science Center (HOSC), allowing the STEM program to further grow thanks to improved access for teachers and students.
“More kids will be able to have access to our STEM equipment at the HOSC than they could coming on base to our STEM Center, so it’s actually a better deal all around,” Matty said.
And he said the STEM program will continue to flourish thanks to the eager volunteers, parents and coaches who have stepped up over the years and continue to do so to support it.
“It’s all the volunteers that really make the STEM program go,” Matty said. “It’s not me. It’s just that we have a huge group of great people willing to help volunteer and mentor our young folks.”
Matty added that the leadership at Arnold is committed to getting as many children as possible interested in STEM and will continue their support of the program.
“They know that, in spite of all the wonderful equipment we have here and the giant test facilities and all, it’s the people that really make it go,” he said. “And without these young people moving into those fields and getting excited about STEM, this place won’t survive.”
Matty said he intends to use his retirement to catch up on some neglected hobbies. He is a volunteer diver with the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, as well as a glider instructor with both the Civil Air Patrol and the Eagleville Soaring Club. He also plays keyboard at his church.
Matty and Rosemary also plan to make more frequent trips to Minneapolis and Houston to visit their grandchildren.
As he reflects on his experiences at Arnold, Matty said it was a combination of the location, job and those he worked with that made it an ideal assignment.
“It was just the perfect place, not only to work, but also to raise a family here,” he said. “To have a high-tech environment in the middle of the country, beautiful scenery, and really super-nice people, we have been really blessed to be here.”