Special Operations wounded, ill and injured (WII) veterans are preparing to help combat child sexual exploitation and human trafficking as part of the new
Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Recue Corps, or HERO Corps.
The HERO project is a joint partnership of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and the National Association to Protect Children with support from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.
The first class of HEROs is made up of 17 veterans from the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, many of whom are wounded, injured, ill injured special operations forces (SOF). Upon completion of initial training in mid-October, the HEROs will join HSI field offices across the U.S. for a one-year internship leading to employment in law enforcement.
“The goal of this initiative is to give our nation’s military veterans a second chance to be heroes, said Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers. “Through this program, they will train for a new battlefield, here at home, as they help to identify and rescue victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation.”
The HERO program is made possible by a five-year $10 million initiative funded with private sector money that underwrites training, logistics and equipment.
“This innovative partnership between government, military and the private sector is exactly what taxpayers wish for and deserve,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children.
As part of USSOCOM’s effort to take care of its people, the Care Coalition provides advocacy and direct, lifelong assistance and to SOF personnel who are wounded, ill, or injured. As part of this commitment, the Transition Team works to establish relationships with corporate leaders in order to provide employment opportunities for WII SOF service members.
“Meaningful employment allows these SOF warriors to regain their purpose and relevancy as they transition from the military. The HERO program represents a great first step in that direction, but we must continue to expand our partnerships with other government agencies and non-profit organizations and the private sector to ensure we fully honor our commitment to our veterans,” said Brigadier Gen. Richard Keene, USSOCOM assistant deputy commander.
Currently, the HEROs are attending seven weeks of training in computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection at HSI’s Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., in order to help identify and rescue child victims of sexual abuse and online sexual exploitation. Prior to that, they attended four weeks of intensive training at ORNL in Tennessee where they learned about child exploitation cases and the federal and state criminal laws that they will be helping to enforce.
“Ultimately, this project will unleash the talent and determination of men and women who have demonstrated incredible commitment and valor,” said retired Army Master Sgt. Rich Robertson of Oak Ridge National Laboratory's International Security and Analysis Division. “By hiring one of these soldiers, law enforcement agencies can greatly enhance their capabilities and ability to find, arrest and help convict predators who prey on thousands of children.”