DYESS AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
In a ceremony as traditional as any retirement ceremony for a member of the Air Force, a war hero veteran left the active duty ranks to savor the few remaining years of his life. Nero, a 12-year-old German shepherd was honored at Dyess Air Force Base, Abilene, Texas, after 10 years of service to his country.
TSgt Rafael Rhodes, from Las Vegas, NV, Nero’s handler during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2012, returned to Abilene to participate in his beloved life-saving hero’s retirement and to bring him to his forever home.
After being assigned to the 7th Security Forces Squadron military working dog unit on Nov. 11, 2011, Nero deployed twice in harm’s way from Dyess AFB to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan in 2012 and in 2013 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom during which time he suffered physical injuries as a result of the detonation of a roadside improvised device that struck the lead vehicle he and his handler, TSgt Rafael Rhodes were riding in. Fortunately, after 12 days of recuperation, Nero and Rhodes returned to duty. It is almost certain Nero suffered psychological trauma during his two deployments as did many of his human brothers though he continued his service without a whimper.
Rhodes eventually received the Purple Heart and was medically discharged from active duty service in 2017. Nero continued serving and was assigned to his current handler, Senior Airman Stephen Flanery. Together they served and protected Dyess against those that would do it harm until Nero’s well-deserved retirement.
No one has to be an animal lover to appreciate the dedication of military working dogs. But they do have to have a heart and a soul in welcoming them into the military’s band of heroes. Military working dogs have been serving and protecting American military members since the Revolutionary War, in various roles such as pack animals, scouts, detection and combat.
Some states had an unofficial canine war force in World War I, but military dogs didn’t become recognized until March 13, 1942 when a private organization, Dogs for Defense was established to recruit dogs from the public for the United States military’s War Dog Program known as the K-9 Corps.
Nero has had 11 handlers throughout his career, provided over 9,000 hours of Law enforcement and Security patrols and provided more than 800 hours of explosive detection. Nero has served on several United States Secret Service VIP missions. His previous handler, Rhodes, will be adopting him and taking him to his home in Las Vegas, NV where he will live with two other of Rhodes’ dogs. Nero hadn’t seen Rhodes since 2014.
Many military working dogs served before Nero, many will serve after. Some gave their lives to protect military forces without question or reward. Dedication that can’t be taught, on top of training that was professionally delivered by Air Force military working dog handlers is why Nero is more than a working dog to all that served with him.