Advancing National Service

The New Target for These Soldiers? Child Predators

May 21, 2014
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The New Target for These Soldiers? Child Predators
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Wounded heroes are able to continue serving — only now they're protecting our nation's youth.

Undoubtedly, dedication and intelligence are two important attributes to bring to a job — and they’re certainly something that our service members possess.

A new program aims to make good use of these characteristics as it employs 14 wounded veterans as federal agents in the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps (H.E.R.O. Child Rescue Corps), which is a part of the office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. These vets will work to prevent and solve child trafficking cases.

Just last week, the program’s first graduating class participated in a child rescue retreat in Memphis, Tennessee, where they used their smarts to study techniques to catch child pornography producers and traffickers.

The H.E.R.O. Child Rescue Corps came about when the National Association to Protect Children asked Immigration and Customs officials if they could retrain wounded veterans to work as analysts tracking child predators. Private donors funded the $10 million program, which trained the former soldiers before dispatching them to field offices throughout the United States, where special agents will supervise them in investigations.

“In 2013, when we presented the idea to top officials at Homeland Security, they said ‘Yes.'” Grier Weeks, executive director of the National Association to Protect Children told Jonathan A. Capriel of The Commercial Appeal. “It was the fastest any of us have ever seen the federal government move.”

Justin Gaertner, who lost both his legs to an IED (improved explosive device) during his third deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, is newly enlisted in the H.E.R.O. Child Rescue Corps. During the training period, he said, “I spent three months in New York assisting in 30 operations which led to 80 arrests of child pornographers. We rescued about eight children from the hands of sexual predators.”

Homeland Security special agent Kevin Power, who mentored the H.E.R.O. interns, told Capriel, “Their military discipline makes them really good for this work. Computer forensics is meticulous and methodical. These guys don’t cut corners, and they don’t question the ordered process you have to go through every time.”

As for Gaertner, not only does the new job allow him use his skills, but also, he has a new career in which his disability doesn’t matter. “The opportunity to put people behind bars who hurt children, is a big reason why I choose to do this,” Gaertner said. “I have an eight-year-old sister who I want to protect.”

We’re sure that Gaertner’s young sibling is just one of the many things motivating him each and every day.

MORE: This Amazing Nonprofit Helps Wounded Vets Rebuild Their Lives

 

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