NAUGATUCK — Massachusetts Air National Guard Major Matt Woodfield remembers clutching an American flag outside his grandfather’s computer shop on Church Street and staring in awe.
Two A-10 fighter jets zoomed overhead on Memorial Day. Engines thundered. The audience roared. It was miraculous spectacle for a boy who idolized “Goose” and “Maverick,” characters in the 1986 Hollywood blockbuster “Top Gun.”
Fast-forward 25 years: Woodfield goes by his own call-sign, “Rolexx,” a name for which there is a long explanation but was given to him as a joke for his propensity to be late.
The 34-year-old married father of three is an instructor pilot at the 131st Fighter Squadron based at Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield, Mass.
On Monday, he will be back in Naugatuck, albeit for about five seconds. Woodfield and another pilot with local ties will fly F-15C Eagles over the Naugatuck Memorial Day parade.
“It will be awesome to do the very thing that made me want to be a fighter pilot in the first place,” he said.
Woodfield, of Longmeadow, Mass., has been on active duty for 12 years, most of which has been with the U.S. Air Force. A military career had been a longtime dream of the 1999 Naugatuck High School graduate, as has been an opportunity to fly over his hometown. He will be flying over parades in Naugatuck, Kent, Southbury, Torrington and Norfolk on Monday. He will be in a one-man cockpit, as will another pilot, Lt. Col. Dave Halasi-Kun, who grew up in New Milford and whose family lives in Kent.
This will be Woodfield’s first time flying over his old stomping grounds and a dream come true, he said. When he saw the fighter jets 25 years ago, he thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to do that one day?”
One summer between second and third grade, he spent a month in Virginia, where his aunt and uncle took him to see an air show at Langley Air Force in Hampton, Va. He sat in the cockpits of F-15s and F-16s and again saw jets fly overhead. He spoke to pilots. He was hooked.
Midway through high school, Woodfield started thinking hard about his future. He knew it would involve military service.
A National Honor Society student at the top of his class, Woodfield, grandson of late former Burgess Bob Woodfield, was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. But Woodfield was a standout swimmer and chose to attend the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mass. on an ROTC scholarship that allowed him to swim for the Division 1 program.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 happened three weeks into his junior year.
“Watching the events unfold that day and in the coming weeks really made me focus on this as my career,” he said.
Woodfield was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force the same week he graduated college. He spent 10 months working at Langley Air Force Base, the same one he visited as a child, while waiting to deploy to flight school.
From there, it was off to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia where he learned to fly a 10-6 turbo propeller before shipping off again for six months to Del Rio, Texas, where he got his wings after six months of flying a 10-38 Talon, the same plane the “bad guys” used in “Top Gun,” he said.
He went back to Georgia for three months of “dogfighting” school and then spent seven months flying an F-15 in Panama City, Fla. After three years back at Lagley in Virginia, and more than two years as an instructor in Panama City, Woodfield was shipped to Okinawa in Japan, where he served as an operational front squadron instructor.
In between, he went to Air Force weapons school in Las Vegas, which is the Air Force’s version of the Navy’s actual Top Gun program. He became a chief instruction pilot for a front line squadron for two years in England. Almost two years ago, he moved back to the States, where he transferred to the National Guard in Massachusetts.
Most of his time on base is spent in combat training, which Woodfield typically leads. He has flown throughout Asia, Austria, portions of the Middle East and all throughout Europe and the United States. Last year, his squadron was called upon by the Pentagon to fly additional aircraft to the Baltic states in support of the NATO countries. He has never seen direct combat.
“This can be a great career for anyone who wants to see the world and not be tied to a desk all the time,” he said.
Like most military members, Woodfield has a few stories of heartache. The most difficult for him occurred Aug. 27, when Woodfield’s friend and mentor, Lt. Col. Morris “Moose” Fontenot, died when his plane crashed in Virginia while on a flight to New Orleans for a routine radar upgrade.
On this Memorial Day, Fontenot will be on Woodfield’s mind, as will all who gave their lives for this country.
“One of the things that gets lost in the parades sometimes is the true meaning of Memorial Day,” Woodfield said. “Being able to fly over the towns in Connecticut and a handful of others in Massachusetts for Memorial Day is a way to pay respect to vets who have flags draped over their graves or posted at their respective grave sites. It’s a humbling experience, and I’m proud to be able to do that.”