BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Friday, friends and family gathered at M&T Bank Stadium for what was supposed to be the retirement celebration for a Navy Master Chief, but he pulled off the surprise of a lifetime for guests and his wife.
It started out as a retirement ceremony for Master Chief Chris Ingles.
He was deployed for an unheard of 78% of his career, completing 14 submarine deployments and many months in the Middle East with special forces. He was also promoted to one of the highest ranks available to enlisted members.
“Never would I have imagined staying in this long from where I started,” Ingles said. “I wrote my mom a letter from boot camp on where to meet me so I could jump the fence and escape.”
After 21 years of service, he’s choosing to spend more time with his family.
“I have no doubt that you will succeed no matter where life takes you. Fair winds and following seas shipmate,” retiring officer Commander Katie Abdallah said.
“There are some things that are coming into retirement with me. The kind of friendships that only happen in our 50th straight hour of being awake. Knowing that no matter what I get myself into, whatever help I need anywhere, there is someone that will come,” Ingles said.
Friends and family gathered for the celebration and were shocked to find out that wasn’t the only reason they were all there.
Ingles wanted to celebrate his wife Jesse, who had been there for him through it all.
“When I met her in middle school, I told her mom I was gonna marry her and after all these years, she’s still here,” said Ingles.
They got married in August 2002, but now had a real wedding.
“We tried when we were younger, she had a wedding dress. We attempted to do this but it was just too much at the time,” said Ingles. “By the time we could afford it, I was never home longer than a month.”
So after 2 1/2 years of planning, secret Facebook pages and Zoom meetings, he pulled off the ultimate surprise wedding.
He got down on one knee. Her friends whisked her away to get changed into her wedding dress. She returned as a bride and they renewed their vows in front of all the people who supported them along the way.
“I feel very surprised,” Jesse Ingles said. “I have always missed that we didn’t get to celebrate with friends and family. I was just excited to see everybody today for other reasons but yeah, that was really nice that everybody could be here.”
Now it’s making up for lost time with his wife and son. His advice for other military members and their families: treasure those moments.
“I would tell people that throughout your career to make sure you focus on that family element. I admittedly was not the best at it all the time because, in a military structure, that’s how you become more successful is you give more time to them,” Ingles said.
One thing that’s certain for both of them: looking back, it was all worth it.