Stories

To Serve and "Paw"tect: K9 Wesley Serves his Nation

December 23, 2021

Meet Wesley, a six-year-old black Labrador retriever, who has spent his life protecting Americans here and abroad, much like his namesake: Major Wesley J. Hinkley, a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

Wesley is a CIA Explosive Detection K9 (a.k.a. “bomb dog”), and he served several tours overseas. He joined the CIA as a year-old pup in 2017, after being released from a service dog organization in Pennsylvania.

On April 4, 2011, Karen Mojecki lost her son, Major Wesley “Wes” J. Hinkley, while he was serving in the U.S. Army in Baghdad, Iraq. “Wes was the kind of person who, when he made a friend, he made a friend for life,” according to Karen. “He was always there for his men.” This is why Karen approached a service dog organization about naming a service dog after her son. A service dog, like a soldier, always takes care of others.

This photo shows Wesley as a puppy with Karen, who is wearing and holding a photo of her son.

As fate would have it, little puppy Wesley arrived at a service dog organization on Memorial Day weekend, 2015. Karen was there in person to greet the wiggly, little black fur-ball that would be her son’s living legacy.

As he grew, it became clear that he might be the perfect fit for CIA’s program. Wesley had the perfect temperament and energy level to serve his country as a CIA explosive detection K9. Karen was thrilled that puppy Wesley was going to do something her son felt was so important: to serve and protect America.

His handler was humbled and honored to be paired with Wesley. She shared, “I have kept in touch with Karen and connected with her through this dog and what he symbolizes. Just looking at him is a constant reminder of the importance of the job we are trusted to do and the legacy that lives through it in her son’s name.” For Karen, her son’s story lives on each time K9 Wesley meets someone new. His handler makes a point to share who he was named after and why.

Wesley’s handler was a Navy vet prior to joining CIA. She broke several gender barriers during her time in the military and was among the first women to join CIA’s K9 unit.

During Wesley’s 2017 training, he enthusiastically went to work at a public machinery yard.

In 2017, Wesley’s training entailed exercises on a public train.

Wesley and his handler had an immediate connection and bonded over their love of the job. She fell for his expressive brown eyes and found him to be sweet and curious. “The first time I met Wesley, he was in the kennel waiting to be taken out and walked prior to going to sleep for the night,” recalled his handler. Wesley, like the other dogs was waiting eagerly for his turn to stretch his legs. “His bark was deep, but it did not match his stature,” joked his handler. In fact, Wesley was the smallest of the dogs.

Watching the two of them work a room, looking for explosives, is like watching a dance. Wesley’s handler has a light hand, usually barely a finger on the leash, as Wesley tracks the invisible scents. Their movement is relaxed, fluid, and almost effortless at times. The unyielding trust they share with one another was evident even during their early training. Now, years later, as Wesley is approaching retirement, their bond is unbreakable.

Wesley at a visit to the veterinarian. These are not Wesley’s spectacles… in case you were wondering.

Wesley’s handler is his number one fan. She beamed, “without a doubt, he has made me happy and proud every day since that first day I saw him in the kennel. I was meant to be his person and he was meant to be my partner.” Their bond began forming in the training class and only deepened over the years. They have worked in numerous stressful situations and provided support overseas, actively seeking out explosives to mitigate threats from touching those we are sworn to protect.

Since returning from overseas, Wesley has become somewhat of a celebrity at CIA Headquarters. Everyone wants to meet the sweet, brave black lab who honorably served his nation.

After a “ruff” day at work, Wesley enjoys his downtime.

After five years of protecting Americans here and abroad, Wesley is set to retire from his CIA career this winter. Like most CIA K9s, he’ll spend the rest of his days as a civilian with his handler (i.e. he will be a pampered house pup). There is a strong handler/K9 bond formed after years together, therefore the dogs get to retire comfortably and remain with their handler/family upon completion of their duties.

Wesley, and his namesake, dedicated their lives to serving their country, protecting those around them, and bringing joy to those who have had the privilege of meeting them.

It’s fitting, then, that the words “loyalty,” “service,” and “commitment” were stamped on little puppy Wesley’s dog tags, in honor of Major Wesley Hinkley, when he arrived on that Memorial Day weekend six years ago to begin his own journey of service to a grateful nation.

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