Rico, an Air Force K-9 with a passion for beef jerky, was honored for his service at Dover Air Force base in Delaware last month by members of the 436th Security Forces Squadron, fellow military working dogs, and their human handlers.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the 8-year-old German shepherd retired from active duty in 2016 and was living out his golden years with his former partner, Tech. Sgt. Jason Spangenberg.
In an update posted to Twitter, officials revealed that Rico, a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for sniffing out more than 100 pounds of explosive material in Afghanistan, had been suffering from a spinal condition, which led to the decision to put him down.
Pictures of the tear-inducing moment show Spangenberg carrying Rico to the base's veterinary clinic as two columns of airmen stand silently at attention.
As is customary with "last call" salutes, an honor guardsman and bugler was on hand to soundtrack the event with a performance of "taps", the military's traditional song for funerals.
Speaking with the Dover Air Force Base's newspaper, Rico's original handler, Tech. Sgt. Matthew Salter, reflected on the deep bond shared between military working dogs and their squadmates.
"It's hard to describe the loss I feel .... 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 the story spread across the microblogging platform, thousands of additional tributes poured in.
In a followup tweet threaded to the first, the DOD shared a final video, fittingly captioned "Run free, Rico".
And now if anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in the fetal position bawling my eyes out like the human embodiment of an actual emoji. 😭 😭 😭