Military vets train for a new mission: rescuing children and bringing predators to justice
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For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson today swore in 22 U.S. military veterans entering into the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Corps program, a program designed to allow wounded, ill or injured warriors the chance to continue serving their country on a new battlefield – the fight against child predators. Secretary Johnson was joined by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Sarah Saldaña, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Dr. Laura Junor, and National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT) Executive Director Grier Weeks.
HERO Corps was developed in 2013 by ICE, the Department of Defense U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and PROTECT. Initially begun as a pilot initiative in 2013 and 2014, the HEROs sworn in today will be the first class to graduate since the passage of the HERO Act, under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, signed into law by the President on May 29.
“These heroes have all served their country with honor and distinction, and despite the traumas of war that they all endured, they have answered the call yet again, volunteering for the HERO Corps and the challenging task of identifying and rescuing victims of child exploitation and abuse,” said Secretary Johnson. “The HERO Corps is a testament not only to the spirit of the military veterans we are honoring here today, but also to the effectiveness of government agencies partnering with the private sector and non-government agencies.”
This year’s class is made up of 22 veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and National Guard from all over America – Connecticut, California, from Vermont to Florida, from North Carolina to Colorado. Some served in Iraq, others in Afghanistan, as infantrymen or tankers, as military police or photojournalists, as mechanics, repairmen or engineers.
“The HERO Corps gives a special group of wounded warriors the chance to join a new mission,” said Director Weeks. “They protected our nation, now they are protecting our nation's children.”
“This program is a great example of what the federal government and non-government organizations can do together to provide a new purpose and a new mission for service members who have had their military careers cut short and must transition to civilian life,” said Dr. Junor.
The HEROs have completed the first phase of the intensive, one-year training program to prepare them to assist ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents to identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and to arrest their perpetrators.
HEROs attend three weeks of training provided by PROTECT, which provides an overview of the child sexual abuse problem specifically covering child abuse and trauma, child sexual abuse prevention, prosecution of child sex offenders and coping with the stresses of working in the field of child sexual exploitation prevention.
The HEROs next complete eight weeks of digital forensics and child exploitation investigation training, conducted by HSI – the same training given to special agents.
Upon successful completion of both training courses, the HEROs are deployed to HSI field offices across the county for 10 months to train with and assist HSI special agents with criminal investigations. HEROs will work under the direct supervision of HSI special agents, conducting computer forensic exams, assisting with criminal investigations and helping to identify and rescue child victims.
Funding of the program is provided by ICE and PROTECT. PROTECT, a non-profit organization, covers the costs of participant travel, equipment/software and relocation expenses while ICE provides the computer forensic training, procures vendor-specific training and provides hands-on field experience and mentorship. Private partners like Wounded Warrior Project have joined the effort to help PROTECT continue to fund much of the cost of the program.
In fiscal year 2014, more than 2,300 child predators were arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 30,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form.
Please visit www.ICE.gov for more information.