The United States Marine Corps is one of the most elite military branches in the world, and this includes both its human Marines and its working dogs. In true Semper Fidelis (always faithful) fashion, two Marines pay a retired Marine war dog their last respect.
San Antonio Magazine offers a rare inside look at the U.S. Armed Forces’ 2,500 military working dogs. Their training begins at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Program (MWD,) which involves months of screening and observation, pre-training, and advanced training before the dog can be certified and deployed with a handler.
Just like humans in the military, not all K9 recruits make the cut. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 50 percent reach combat. Military dogs must be athletic, strong-willed, and highly intelligent. Once working, these K9s provide a crucial service to our armed forces in detecting dangers and protecting troops. Rico, a German Shepard, was one of these elite canines in the Marines. His handler was Marine Staff Sgt. Russ Beckley, a fourth-generation Marine. Unlike many of the pups born and breed for the Marines, Rico was already four-years-old when he went to training camp at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
It was there he’d meet Beckley, who’d just graduated from military police school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Together, Rico and Beckley would go on to serve two full tours in Afghanistan, including 240 missions and 30 firefights. Beckley told the Marine Corps Times that Rico wasn’t just there doing his duty on the battlefields. He described how Rico was a morale boost for both himself and the other Marines who knew him.
In 2012, Beckley’s career path veered, and Rico was sent to Texas for retraining with a different handler. Rico didn’t adapt and was retired with four years of honorable service. This meant Rico was placed up for adoption. When Beckley got the news, he immediately put his name in the pot to adopt Rico. Since handlers are usually given first dibs, Rico went home with Beckley. Unfortunately, a bad combination of tight quarters, frequent deployment, and small children wasn’t the most ideal situation for Rico. So, Rico found a new home with Beckley’s dad, Marine veteran Russell Beckley, in Saugatuck, Michigan.
Rico thrived and offered the same love and loyalty to Beckley’s parents. He served his country and handler well and became the Beckley’s fifth generation of Marines when he was adopted into the family. At age 12, the Beckley’s knew it was time to say goodbye to their ailing comrade and companion. He was euthanized and cremated. An everyday backyard burial simply wouldn’t be fitting, though. In full-military dress, Staff Sgt. Russell Beckley Jr. and Marine veteran Russell Beckley gave retired Marine working dog Rico a proper military burial. His tiny coffin can be seen draped by the flag.
Marine Corps League members of Muskegon, Michigan made Rico an honorary member, and they even played Taps at his funeral. Rico also received the traditional 21-gun salute.