From Airplanes to Trucks, Retired U.S. Air Force Crew Chief Lands a Career at Wegmans
When Matt Harris, Wegmans sustainability manager for energy and fleet technology, graduated high school, he didn’t have a clear vision of what would come next. After a year of living at home and working at a local home improvement store, he decided to enlist in the United States Air Force.
“I had a choice to make; I couldn’t stay home forever,” recalls Matt. “I felt I had the right mindset to be a service member, and if given the right direction, I’d be able to do what was needed to be successful.”
Matt planned to serve his four years and move on to the next thing, but he quickly found himself thrust into a promising military career. After completing basic training and technical school, Matt deployed to Germany where he learned to work on the A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as the Warthog. Upon his return to the United States, he became an A-10 Crew Chief for the 74th Fighter Squadron Flying Tigers, a unit he takes pride in being part of. Over the course of his 20-year career, he deployed overseas to Kuwait, Iraq, Korea, Portugal’s Azores, and Afghanistan. In between tours, Matt spent time at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina (now Pope Field at Fort Bragg) and Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. He seized opportunities both abroad and stateside to continue learning, growing his career, and taking on new responsibilities. During his time in Korea, he gained experience as a maintenance instructor, teaching a variety of courses, and creating training programs that are still in use today. Back in the States, Matt was invited to attend the Noncommissioned Officer Academy, furthering his education and graduating in the top 10 percent of his class. Named to the A-10 East Demonstration team, Matt spent two years traveling with a four-man crew to perform in air shows across the United States and overseas.
It was also Matt’s decision to join the Air Force that led him to meet Brenna, his wife of nearly 23 years and the mother of their three children – Mackenzie, Caleb and Madison. Growing up surrounded by extended family, and with parents who instilled a strong sense of family in him from a young age, it’s no surprise family has always been important to Matt.
“Starting a family while in the service isn’t easy. It requires a lot of sacrifices from everyone involved – me, my wife, and my kids,” reflects Matt. “At times, we were able to all be together, but for many more, we were not. I’ve been blessed with three incredible kids and an amazing wife. It hasn’t always been easy, but our journey has shaped the strong family unit we are today.”
As Matt neared the end of his military career, he and Brenna were faced with the new challenge of deciding where their family would start the next chapter of their life, together. After weighing their options, the couple opted to move to Matt’s hometown of Rochester, New York, where they could be near family, and where a new career opportunity awaited Matt.
“While in Afghanistan, on my last tour before retiring, my Dad, a longtime Wegmans employee, suggested I consider looking at Wegmans for my next career,” says Matt. “I couldn’t imagine there being a skill I had learned from my last 20 years spent working on military aircraft that would transfer to working at a regional grocery store.”
But to his surprise, when it came time to apply for a job, there was an opening for a fleet maintenance department manager. Arguably, the most transferable job he could imagine, Matt went from overseeing the maintenance of 20 airplanes and 300 people in the Air Force, to overseeing the maintenance of 1,000 trailers and 200 trucks, while leading a team of 12 at Wegmans.
“After 20 years, reacclimating to civilian life and transitioning from a military career to a corporate one takes time,” explains Matt. “I’m fortunate to have landed at a company like Wegmans that embraces people with different paths, and to have a leadership team that exhibited patience and recognized and valued the perspective I brought to the job.”
Since joining Wegmans in 2014, Matt’s Air Force training has served him well, as he and his team have focused on running Wegmans’ fleet as efficiently and sustainably as possible – from driver training programs and mile-per-gallon initiatives, to the addition of compressed natural gas vehicles and collaborative partnerships with leading technology suppliers. This year, Matt started in a new role on the Wegmans sustainability team, where he’ll continue leading the charge on fleet technology, and take on the responsibility of managing the company’s carbon footprint.
One thing that has helped keep Matt centered throughout his new career, is the company’s values, which align with those of the U.S. Air Force.
“The words each organization uses to describe their values are different – integrity, service before self, and excellence, versus respect, caring, and high standards – but the tenets are the same,” explains Matt. “Mr. Wegman always had the customer in mind and emphasized the importance of thinking of others. If you lead with the values, and live by those principles, whether you’re serving in the military or working in corporate America, you can’t go wrong. It centers you to the work.”