Air Force squadron gives final salute to military dog outside veterinary clinic

DOVER, Del. (WHDH) — An Air Force squadron gave a final salute to a former military dog as part of their emotional farewell.

Rico, who served as a military working dog for eight years, had to be put to sleep on Jan. 24, after veterinarians said his canine degenerative myelopathy was making him suffer.

The German Shepherd had three handlers over the course of his career, patrolling the Dover Air Force Base as well as going on several overseas deployments. He retired from service in 2016, living as a family pet since then with his last handler, Jason Spangenberg.

Both Rico and Spangenberg earned the bronze star, after the two detected over 100 pounds of explosive material on dozens of combat missions in Afghanistan.

“The bond that Rico and I shared was special,” Spangenberg said. “It started off as partners. We then deployed and it completely changed. We became family. I needed him and relied on him to keep me and the others around us safe.”

Spangenberg recalled a memorable time with Rico during a deployment, where the airman received a three-pound bag of beef jerky in a care package.

“I left Rico in my room to go to a 30-minute briefing about a mission. When I came back to the room, Rico had jumped up on the table, grabbed the bag of jerky out of the box and literally ate the entire bag – all in 30 minutes,” he recalled. “Needless to say, I wasn’t happy and neither was his stomach for the next couple days. I would look at him and just say, ‘Karma sucks, pup.’”

The Air Force said members of the 436th Security Forces Squadron, military working dogs and their handlers wanted to pay their respects to Rico one final time during “last call,” where they saluted Rico outside the veterinary clinic as an honor guardsman played taps.

“It gives us a chance to let everyone monitoring the net to know the officer or K-9 is no longer with us … It’s our way of saying goodbye,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Salter, 436th SFS kennel master and Rico’s first handler. “I know Rico is in a better place and is running around again finding bombs and biting bad guys, but it’s also sad because my partner isn’t around for me to see whenever I need that look he would give. He had a way of saying ‘get up dad, time to work.’”

As Spangenberg carried his ailing friend past saluting service members, a radio alert went out across the base: “To all cars, posts and patrols … to all cars, posts and patrols … stand by on all radio transmissions … standby on all radio transmissions. Standby for last call: BDOC to MWD Rico … BDOC to MWD Rico … BDOC to MWD Rico … End of watch for MWD Rico on January 24th, 2018. Rest in peace, MWD Rico.”

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