Gunnery sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, poses with US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, at Wellington Barracks in London, Tuesday, April 5, 2016.  The 12-year-old German Shepherd lost her leg on 23 March 2012, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when Lucca discovered a 30lb improvised explosive device (IED) and as she searched for additional IEDs, a second device detonated, instantly loosing her front left leg. Lucca completed over 400 separate missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during six years of active service protected the lives of thousands of troops, with her heroic actions recognised by the UK's leading veterinary charity, PDSA, with the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/AP
Gunnery sergeant Christopher Willingham, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA, poses with US Marine dog Lucca, after receiving the PDSA Dickin Medal, awarded for animal bravery, equivalent of the Victoria Cross, at Wellington Barracks in London, Tuesday, April 5, 2016. The 12-year-old German Shepherd lost her leg on 23 March 2012, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when Lucca discovered a 30lb improvised explosive device (IED) and as she searched for additional IEDs, a second device detonated, instantly loosing her front left leg. Lucca completed over 400 separate missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during six years of active service protected the lives of thousands of troops, with her heroic actions recognised by the UK's leading veterinary charity, PDSA, with the highest award any animal in the world can achieve while serving in military conflict. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
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U.S. Marine on his dog: 'I owe her my life'

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The award is the highest honor animals can receive for military service

Lucca is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to be honored

(CNN) —  

A dog, who lost her leg when an IED detonated underneath her, received a medal for courage on Tuesday.

Lucca, a 12-year-old German shepherd, served two tours with the U.S. Marine Corps. She successfully completed 400 missions and protected the lives of thousands of troops during her six years of service, according to a statement from The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, a British organization known as PDSA.

During her final mission on March 23, 2012, in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, an IED blew up underneath Lucca while she was on patrol. Her handler, Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, recounted the explosion in the PDSA press release.

“The explosion was huge and I immediately feared the worst for Lucca,” Rodriguez said. “I ran to her and saw her struggling to get up. I picked her up and ran to the shelter of a nearby tree line; applied a tourniquet to her injured leg and called the medics to collect us.

“She had saved my life on so many occasions – I had to make sure that I was there for her when she needed me.”

Lucca survived the bombing, but she lost her front leg. Now four years later, she has been given the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the United Kingdom’s Victoria Cross. This is the highest honor animals can receive for their military service, and Lucca is the first U.S. Marine Corps dog to receive the medal.

Lucca is retired and lives with Gunnery Sgt. Chris Willingham and his family in California.

“She is the only reason I made it home to my family and I am fortunate to have served with her,” Willingham said. “Today, I do my best to keep her spoiled in her well-deserved retirement.”