HERO Program Transitions Wounded Vets into Forensic Examiners

Viviana Meneses

Jun 16 2015

It takes a special kind of person to be a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. These brave men and women receive extensive training in their respective areas of military service and then respond to the orders they’re given to deploy to locations all over the world. Some of those service members soon return home with physical injuries or illnesses that make it impossible for their military careers to continue.

An innovative program implemented in 2013 by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations division is finding a pathway for tapping into the unique skills of those wounded veterans and transitioning them into jobs on a different battlefield.

“U.S. law enforcement has identified hundreds of thousands of criminals in the U.S. participating in a global child sexual exploitation marketplace,” says the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT). “Their ‘product’ is child pornography – crime scene video and photos of children being raped and often tortured. A growing body of research shows that at least 55 percent are hands-on offenders, with local child victims.”

To address this horrific criminal behavior right here at home, PROTECT joined forces with ICE to launch the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child Rescue Corps program.

“Child exploitation material is not really something that the average person wants to see or wants to be associated with,” said Brian Widener, chief of the computer forensics unit for ICE. “We can take service members who can compartmentalize things, who are used to being on the battlefield and seeing some of the worst situations, and we can retrain them into doing computer forensics. We know that we can put them in front of the computer and they’re going to see some of the most heinous images of children being victimized, but we know they can compartmentalize that and use it as motivation to do their job.”

The HERO program provides training to veterans in high-tech computer forensics and law enforcement skills so they’re equipped to assist federal agents in the fight against online child sexual exploitation. The veterans attend three weeks of training to understand the impact of the child exploitation crimes and then eight weeks of training in computer forensic analysis and digital evidence collection. After completing the training, the veterans then serve in ICE offices nationwide and, upon graduation from the HERO program, they have the knowledge, skills and experience to apply for careers with federal, state and local police agencies and other organizations, in the field of computer forensics. By the end of 2015, more than 70 veterans will have successfully graduated from the HERO program and launched new careers as forensic investigators.

“Approximately 55 percent of our work is related to child exploitation, so it seemed a natural fit to take wounded service members who could no longer serve their country in the roles they were originally accustomed to and retrain them into a unique situation where they could take that battlefield mentality and focus it on child exploitation,” said Widener.

A key component of this training is a thorough instruction in how to use various software tools, such as AccessData’s Forensic Toolkit (FTK) product. FTK is a digital investigations platform built for fast processing, stability and ease of use, while handling massive data sets. It provides comprehensive processing and indexing up front, so users can zero-in on the relevant evidence quickly and conduct their analysis faster.

“To support the HERO program, AccessData provides free licenses to all members of the training program and then extends those free licenses for their use during the first year of their work in the field as forensic investigators,” said Scott Burgess, account manager for AccessData. “We’re honored to be a part of such an important initiative and grateful for the hard work of the men and women who are making it happen.”

“One of the greatest days in a HERO’s new career is when they go out on their first warrant and join the child rescue mission in earnest,” said Grier Weeks, executive director of PROTECT. “Sending them onto this battlefield with that AccessData dongle is like sending them into battle with the weapons they need. It ensures they’ll catch predators and rescue children.”

The most recent class of the HERO program session will be sworn in on June 19th with 22 veterans and a new class of 24 veterans will begin the next session this August. The HERO Corps is a joint project of the National Association to Protect Children, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Special Operations Command.

Please view the video below to learn more about this important program that is equipping our wounded and injured veterans for work on a new battlefield on the Internet.

For more information about the HERO program or to enroll please visit their website at or contact JonAnn Gledhill, HERO Corps Program Manager at the National Association to Protect Children at

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