A banker by profession, Ponte Vedra Beach resident Matt Willis is also a supply officer in the U.S. Naval reserve and was stationed in Bahrain for most of last year, from February through December. Like all of those serving in the military, he is grateful for support from his community while overseas. Upon returning home Christmas Eve, he gave Underwood’s Jewelers an American flag that accompanied an aerial mission over Syria as a token of thanks to one of his favorite hometown stores. It is on display at the store in Ponte Vedra Beach.
As told to Maggie FitzRoy
Q: What is your civilian job?
A: I work at Deutsche Bank and will be going back to work soon. I work in finance, in private wealth management.
Q: Was this the first time you had been deployed?
A: This was the third time. I was in Afghanistan in 2018 and Kuwait in 2015. This time was a little more calm, as far as being in a safe place.
Q: What was your primary mission in Bahrain?
A: We were there to support flights into Iraq and Syria as well as intelligence patrolling the waters of the Persian Gulf.
Q: What does a supply officer do?
A: Supply officers are the Navy’s business managers, supplying fuel, food, equipment, gear. My primary duty was running the dining facilities, two for the Navy and two for the Army.
Q: Why did you present Underwood’s with an American flag that flew with a mission?
A: I’ve had a relationship with Underwood’s for a number of years. I presented the flag to say thanks to Sarah, my personal jeweler, and to Underwood’s.
Q: How did you get the flag?
A: I bought the flag there and I had a relationship with a Marine air wing that was there. They put the flag in the cockpit during one of their missions. That flag flew over Syria in a Harrier jet. It’s a common thing you do for friends and family when you are overseas—buy a flag and dedicate it to someone. If someone has a birthday, you can buy a flag and arrange ahead of time to have it flown over the base that day.
Q: Is the flag certified?
A: They give you the flag with a certificate indicating when and where it was flown, then you have it framed.
Q: So, you are a regular customer at Underwood’s?
A: Yes, Sarah has helped me with watches I wear overseas and at work as well as for my wife’s birthday. And for special gifts for my wife. Sarah and I kept in touch when I was in Bahrain. The flag was a way to say thanks for thinking of me. I love watches, I have since I was a kid. I always go into Underwood’s to talk to Sarah about watches. She sold me the one I wore all year in the Middle East.
Q: Tell us about your family.
A: My wife, Donna, works for the PGA TOUR. We have three dogs, Ringo and Chloe and Mara. I brought Mara back from military duty in Africa, where Mara was a street dog. We adopted her and had her flown back to the U.S. and now she lives with us in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Q: When did you move to Ponte Vedra Beach?
A: In 2014. My wife was a dolphin trainer in Marineland, and I lived in Avondale. When we married, we sold both our houses and bought our house in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: All over Florida. I went to the University of Florida, have a B.S. in business. I also have an M.S. from the University of Central Florida, an M.B.A. from U.F. and an M.A. from the Naval War College.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not deployed overseas or working at the bank?
A: I play golf. So, having a wife that works for the PGA TOUR is nice. My wife and I also enjoy travel. We take a couple of trips a year.