GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Chief Petty Officer Lance Simmons’ retirement ceremony was not the one for which he had planned, but he’s just fine with that.
“This is a blessing. Like, I had no idea this was going to happen,” he said. “To see them, all the guys I work with come to see me off was just amazing. It just goes to show you that the military becomes a family. Everybody becomes a family. The chiefs mess is a big hard family. We all stick together.”
Simmons is retiring after 22 years of service, and the ceremony would have been in his hometown of Westlake, Louisiana.
“They just built a brand new memorial,” he said. “My name got engraved on the United States Navy plaque. It was going to be awesome.”
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
“I thought that nothing else could happen because of the pandemic,” he said. “ Thought that no ceremonies were ever going to happen for me.”
Members of the Keesler Air Force Base Chief Petty Officers Association helped put together a special presentation and a parade in his honor.
“We wanted to do what we could - while abiding with all the safety regulations and the distancing and all that good stuff - and still give him some kind of a good send-off,” said co-organizer Dennis Toups.
The short ceremony was two months in the making for his wife, Jennifer.
“We were supposed to have the ceremony back home with our family and friends,” she said. “And it was going to be a great honor.”
At that ceremony, a fellow chief was to read the poem, “The Watch.” So, she did it anyway, with a special recording for a special moment.
At the end of the reading, Jennifer capped off an emotional ceremony.
“I love you,” she told her husband. “I’m so proud of you. You’re an amazing man.”
As of midnight Sunday, Simmons officially will be retired.