The Beckley family has four generations of Marines — five if you count Rico.

The Rico, a German shepherd, joined the Marine Corps in 2008 when he was 4 years old, and it’s where he met then-Cpl. Russell Beckley Jr. 

Beckley was selected to be a military working dog handler upon graduating from military police school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for to attend the basic handler’s course, where he and received both Rico got and training to become a combat tracker training.

Beckley remembers that Rico wasn’t like other dogs — he attacked other people and was so aggressive that the staff members at handler school were worried Rico wouldn’t pass the coursebe able to pass because he kept attacking everyone.

"Obviously he didn't attack me," Beckley said. "We kinda jibed."

Now-Staff Sgt. Russell Beckley Jr. served two tours in Afghanistan with Rico.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Beckley family

Rico did pass the military working dog course and then went to Twentynine Palms, California, with Beckley. In February 2010, the pair Beckley and Rico deployed to Trek Nawa, Afghanistan, during the push to Marjah with 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. After five months, they returned to Twentynine Palms before deploying . In 2011, they deployed again to Sangin in 2011 with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, for just shy of seven months.

Beckley, now a staff sergeant at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, said neither of his deployments was easy, and both units lost a lot of great Marines.

"When you're out on patrol, it's all business. You don't have time to process all that," he said. "You have to stay 100 percent focused no matter what's happening around you."

But when he got back to the patrol base at night, he said, he had time to process everything that happened throughout the day. It and it helped to have Rico there, he said.

On patrol, Rico was in the zone all businessBeckley said he was never the kind of dog who would go up to a stranger and give him love for no reason.

"But at night, he’d roll over on his back and start acting like a puppy," Beckley recalled. "Rubbing his nose on you and giving you kisses. Beckley said it helped having that while in a war zone.After bad days on deployment — not just for me but for all the Marines that were present — he did a lot for morale." Beckley said. "The Marines appreciated him being around. Rico appreciated their affection, and they appreciated Rico’s."

In 2012, Beckley made a lateral move, and Rico was sent to San Antonio to be retrained by another handler. But the dog Rico was dropped from the assignment because of failure to adapt.

Rico served in the Marine Corps from 2008 to 2012.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Beckley family

Beckley's buddies in San Antonio found out and contacted him because they knew he would want to adopt Rico if given the chance. Once Beckley got the go-ahead, he retrieved Rico and brought him home for four months. However a combination of Beckley's small children, frequent deployments and tight military housing led the staff sergeant to the conclusion his battle buddy would have a better quality of life with Beckley's parents in Michigan.

"Furthermore, I just thought it would be nice for my parents to have a piece of me at home as well," he said.

Beckley said he was a little apprehensive the first time he went to visit Rico in Michigan because he wasn't sure how the dog would be handling the change.

"I was so happy … because Rico didn't even care that I was there because he was so attached to my father," he said. "That same love he gave me and that same loyalty … all that went to my father."

Beckley's parents have lots of acreage for Rico to run around, and he even made trips to Beckley's father's well-drilling business.

Rico was 12½ years old by now. He had served his country well but was ailing.

Staff Sgt. Russell Beckley Jr. with is father, Marine veteran Russell Beckley.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Beckley family

On June 18, the Beckley family knew it was time to put down their beloved companion and give him the send-off he deserved.

Rico received a flag-draped coffin, a 21-gun salute and a rendition of "Taps" by the Marine Corps League members of Muskegon, Michigan.

Retired military working dog Rico was euthanized June 18.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Beckley family

Someone commented on social media that it was ridiculous to have a military burial for Rico, but Beckley said Rico was always faithful to him and the Marines he served with.

"I thought it was special to pay him some sort of tribute," he said. "He was much more than a pet or dog to me, and to just put him down and put him in a box wasn't right."

Beckley said the Marine Corps League even made Rico an honorary member and went out of their way to have a proper burial for him. The Beckleys had Rico cremated and will honor him in their home.

"Rico was my partner in the Marine Corps," Beckley said. "And he became a member of my family as well."

Charlsy Panzino covers veterans education, employment and transition issues, as well as travel, entertainment and fitness. Email her at

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at

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