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Retirement leads to surprise wedding vows

Rev. Mark Ragsdale, pastor of The Church of Viera near Patrick AFB, Fla., administers wedding vows to Master Sgt. Thomas Arevalos (right) and his wife, Melissa (left) as their four sons serve as witnesses.  Arevalos surprised his wife with the vow renewal at his retirement ceremony Oct. 17, 2014.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Cory Long)

Rev. Mark Ragsdale, pastor of The Church of Viera near Patrick AFB, Fla., administers wedding vows to Master Sgt. Thomas Arevalos (right) and his wife, Melissa (left) as their four sons serve as witnesses. Arevalos surprised his wife with the vow renewal at his retirement ceremony Oct. 17, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cory Long)

Master Sgt. Thomas Arevalos (right), a heating, ventilation and air conditioning project manager for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, is pictured with his commander,  Col. Chris Worley (left), his wife, Melissa, and their four sons, Lane, Braydon, Gavin and Tommy, at Arevalos' retirement ceremony Oct. 17, 2014.  (U.S Air Force photo by Cory Long)

Master Sgt. Thomas Arevalos (right), a heating, ventilation and air conditioning project manager for the Air Force Technical Applications Center, is pictured with his commander, Col. Chris Worley (left), his wife, Melissa, and their four sons, Lane, Braydon, Gavin and Tommy, at Arevalos' retirement ceremony Oct. 17, 2014. (U.S Air Force photo by Cory Long)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- A military retirement ceremony is steeped in tradition that usually includes a medal presentation, a flag-folding ceremony and a shadow box gift for the retiree.  But one senior noncommissioned officer from the Air Force Technical Applications Center here took his special event one step further:  he renewed his wedding vows with his wife.

Master Sgt. Thomas Arevalos, AFTAC's heating, ventilation and air conditioning project manager, surprised his wife, Melissa, at his ceremony Oct. 17 in the Doyle Northrup Conference Center immediately after the presiding officer, Col. Chris Worley, AFTAC commander, presented the senior NCO with his retirement certificate.

Thomas asked Melissa to join him on stage, and then he called on Mark Ragsdale, the Arevalos' pastor from the Church of Viera, to officiate the impromptu ceremony.

"Let us all be witness to their commitment of love and their heartfelt desire to continue as husband and wife," Ragsdale said.

His decision to renew his vows at the same time he was retiring was twofold.

"I never really proposed to her in a formal way," said Arevalos.  "At the time, I was stationed in Korea and was preparing to move to a new assignment at Eglin AFB in the Florida Panhandle.  We had been talking about getting married, but that was about it.  I told her to pick a date to get married - no romance whatsoever."

The couple was married Feb. 3, 2001 in San Antonio, Texas, the groom's hometown.  The ceremony was a small tradition wedding attended by close family members.  The newlyweds spent their honeymoon traveling to his next duty assignment in Tucson, Arizona. Seven months later, he was unexpectedly deployed to Southwest Asia in response to the 9/11 attacks.

"I was immediately sent to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, to help establish combat communications for the Air Operations Center there," he said.  "Just a few weeks into the deployment, I learned that Melissa and I were going to have twins!  Needless to say, I could not wait to get home to share in the joy."

Once the husband and wife were reunited, they welcomed twins Tommy and Gavin into the world.  A few years later, sons Braydon, 9, and Lane, 8, rounded out the family of six.

Throughout their 13-year marriage, the couple balanced their military life of new assignments, new schools, and new jobs.  Since arriving at Patrick AFB in July 2010, Melissa put her master's degree to good use, serving as a social worker at a local hospital.

"This was so sweet of Tom to put this all together," she said.  "I am so touched, but the best part of it all is I get to be married to such a good man, and an even better father.  I'm looking forward to him being retired because it will be less stressful, and we won't have to move anymore!"

The Arevalos family is considering making the Space Coast their permanent home, and Tom has already lined up a civil service job with the 45th Space Wing here at Patrick AFB.

When asked why he went to such lengths to renew his wedding vows, he said, "I always felt my wife got cheated out of the dream all women have when it comes to getting married - a romantic proposal, a beautiful wedding day, and a glorious honeymoon," said Arevalos.  "Realizing I never gave her those things, I thought my retirement ceremony would give me the chance to reaffirm my love for my wife and family in front of my Air Force family and friends.  I also wanted my children to see their parents cement the values that matter most to us - an affirmation to each other and our commitment to God.  It's also a great way to start this new chapter of our lives together."