Military 'HEROs' prepare for new mission: protecting children

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17 wounded, injured and ill military begin training in Houston for HSI computer forensics internship

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HOUSTON — Seventeen wounded, injured and ill military veterans began training for a new mission in Houston Monday as part of a one-year intensive computer forensics internship program with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The HERO Child-Rescue Corps internship is a private-public partnership between the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), HSI and U.S. Special Operations Command, in which carefully selected veterans are trained in digital forensics and child exploitation work and then embedded in HSI field offices around the country. There they will assist HSI special agents as forensic analysts dedicated to identifying and rescuing children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Training with the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force will be conducted by PROTECT's Weiss Child Rescue Technology Center and take place Aug. 4 to 23 at the Houston Children's Assessment Center.

Following the initial training in Houston, the interns will spend two months learning computer forensic analysis and evidence gathering at HSI's Cyber Crimes Center, which investigates global child exploitation and trains law enforcement in victim identification and child rescue.

The HEROs will then proceed to on-the-job training for the remainder of their internships at HSI offices in Charleston, South Carolina; Charlotte, North Carolina; Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis, Tennessee; Dallas; Denver, Colorado; Fairfax and Norfolk, Virginia; Indianapolis, Indiana; Kansas City, Missouri; Long Beach, California; New York; Reno, Nevada; Tampa, Florida; and Wilmington, Delaware. There they 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.

Earlier this year, 14 graduates of the initial pilot program class accepted jobs with HSI and are now employed as full-time forensic analysts across the U.S.

The HERO program is made possible by a five-year $10 million initiative funded with private sector money that underwrites training, logistics and equipment.

All applicants are interviewed and vetted to ensure a good fit with the HERO Corps.

In fiscal year 2013, HSI identified more than 900 victims of online child sexual abuse and arrested more than 2,000 child predators on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 29,000 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. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.

HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.

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