When Sgt. Rambo leads the Live Oak Memorial Day Parade in Texas this Saturday, it will be the first time the parade has had a fur-legged grand marshal.
But it won’t be Rambo’s first time as a grand marshal — the 8-year-old (as of May 27) German Shepherd from Converse, Texas, had the same honors last year in the Universal City Veterans Day Parade.
Rambo, recipient of the Military Dogs honor in the American Humane Association’s 2015 Hero Dog Awards, served in the Marine Corps as an explosives detection dog. He participated in 622 missions on the base and in the local community of Cherry Point, N.C. Rambo was medically retired due to a shoulder injury, and later had to have his left front leg amputated.
But that didn’t stop this veteran. Rambo became a mascot for Alamo Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization that flies veterans from San Antonio to Washington, D.C., free of charge so they can visit their memorials.
Lisa Phillips, Rambo’s handler and dog mom, has had him for four years. “He’s also my service dog, and he’s the love of my life,” she told MySanAntonio.com.
Phillips is also a veteran. While serving in 2005, she adopted another military working dog named Gizmo. When Gizmo retired, his health declined, and his veterinary bills began piling up.
“I had to get a second job to provide for him the medical care he deserved,” Phillips told MySanAntonio.com.
After Gizmo died of kidney failure, Phillips founded Gizmo’s Gift. The nonprofit provides financial support to families adopting retired military working dogs. Rambo is the organization’s mascot.
“We’re supporting about 30 dogs right now, and about 15 have been adopted by prior handlers,” Phillips told MySanAntonio.com.
Until recently, retired military working dogs were considered equipment. They were often left behind on enemy soil since the cost of transporting them to the United States was prohibitive.
But late last year President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a provision that not only guarantees that these dogs are returned by the military to the U.S. when they retire, but also that their handlers have first dibs on adopting them as pets.
“We thank these brave heroes for serving our country, and we are grateful that every one will finally get the retirement they deserve with those who care for them most,” Dr. Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of the American Humane Association, wrote at the time in a message to supporters.
Many of these four-legged heroes have now been adopted by their former handlers, Phillips said.
“The tricky thing is, most dogs have multiple handlers throughout their careers,” she told MySanAntonio.com. “Rambo got injured early on. Through networking on Facebook, [my adoption of Rambo] was a perfect fit.”
When Rambo, with Phillips by his side, leads the Live Oak Memorial Day Parade on Saturday, he’ll be wearing his Marines vest with his rank and patches.
“He knows something special is about to happen when he gets to put on his vest,” Phillips told MySanAntonio.com.
The Live Oak Memorial Day Parade begins at 10 a.m. May 28.
Photo via Facebook