LAWRENCEVILLE - Willie Smith lost his brother to war just two months ago, but Friday he got to take home his brother's best friend, the dog who served beside Sgt. 1st Class Donald T. Tabb in Afghanistan.
During a ceremony at the Gwinnett Fallen Heroes Memorial, Tabb's family tearfully accepted a posthumous promotion, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart on the Lawrenceville man's behalf.
But the treasure that day was the retirement of Bo, the black Labrador who was Tabb's superior officer and companion in the desert.
"It will be a great comfort to all of us to receive Bo," Smith said before the ceremony. "He may be an animal, but he is more than that. He helped save lives and helped protect him (Tabb)."
Tabb, 29, died Feb. 5 when the Humvee he was traveling in was struck by an improvised explosive device. Bo, who was trained to find explosives and clear roadways, was traveling in a crate at the time. He was injured in the blast but has fully recovered.
After a soldier handed Bo's leash to Smith, Tabb's mother, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews gathered around the dog to lavish him with hugs and pats.
"You're not just receiving a pet today. Bo was an outstanding soldier ... and while paired with your brother, they saved countless lives," said Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Timmins, the kennel master at Fort Rucker, where Tabb was based.
After serving in the Army as a military policeman for years, including a deployment to Kosovo and two deployments to Iraq, Tabb volunteered to be a part of the Army's new specialized dog handler program.
"He knew he was going to go back to the desert, but he wanted to do that for the Army," said Lisa Eichhorn from the Alabama Army station's public affairs office. "He made the decision because the Army had a need."
Timmins said the happy-go-lucky Bo has the same personality of his handler, and Smith said he felt like he knew the dog, even though they only met at his brother's funeral.
"(Tabb) always gave Bo the credit for anything," Smith said. "Having Bo means a great deal to myself and my family."