Wounded and disabled military veterans might not be able to serve the country on war front, but they can still use their expertise to help save at-risk children all across the United States.
Many veterans who return home after suffering an injury that forced their retirement from active service feel like they have lost the sole purpose of their life. However, now they can join federal agents in their fight against online sexual predators, potentially helping thousands of minors who are at danger of being abused.
The HERO Rescue Corps, which began in 2013, trains wounded veterans in sophisticated cyber forensics before placing them in Homeland Security Investigations field offices. So far, the program has placed 100 veterans-turned-fighters in positions where they combat online sexual exploitation of children.
“A lot of the individuals who come into the HERO Corps are truly individuals who have lost their mission on the battlefield,” explained J. Christian, CEO of the National Association to Protect Children. “In one second their entire life changed. When that happens, I know from personal experience, you start to wonder, what can I now do? And once you find this opportunity, you know it's truly your opportunity to step back into that role.”
The HERO – Human Exploitation Rescue Operative – program is a partnership of the National Association to Protect Children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Each operative can stop or prevent up to 50 children a year from being abused and exploited.
“They gave me a mission,” said Henry Mare, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his nine years of service. “It's a very noble one, too. It is not every day that you have an opportunity to go and save children.”
The vets who apply for the program are given 11 weeks of training and 10 months of hands-on experience to hone their skills at analyzing computers, cell phones and external hard disks while hunting for evidence that a suspect might be harboring or produce child pornography.
"You see groups of children being abused at levels the average American cannot fathom. If you imagine an infant getting gagged and bound, tortured, it's not a rare occurrence to come across," Christian added, noting that the U.S. is the largest producer of child pornography in the world.
Find out more about the initiative in the video below: