When his career military career was cut short due to combat wounds, Tom Block needed a new mission. Thanks to the HERO Corps, he found it.
A veteran of the legendary 75th Ranger Regiment, and the 2014 Army Times Soldier of the Year, Block has been honored for his inredible recovery and his unwavering efforts to motivate others. Now, he is going to help federal law enforcement officials hunt down child predators.
What sounds like a cooler name for Marvel’s Avengers is actually a Department of Homeland Security program official known as Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Corps, a partnership that gives wounded, ill or injured troops a chance to train in high-tech computer forensics and law enforcement skills so they can help federal agents in the fight against online child sexual exploitation.
“I felt it was a great way to extend the mission I had in special operations,” Block said. “It’s a mission of servitude and going after bad guys, and I like doing that and wanted to continue doing that.”
The Army Ranger was one of 15 recent graduates of the initial eight week training program, where the veterans learn the detail of digital forensics and child exploitation investigation techniques. After graduation, they are sent to Homeland Security Investigations field offices across the country for a 10-month internship. DUring that time, they train with and assist special agents with criminal investigations, computer forensic exams and help rescue child victims.
“I think we can all agree that there is no crime that is more heinous, that gets our attention more readily, than the sexual abuse and exploitation of children,” said Sarah Saldana, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
HERO Corps partnership between ICE and the US Military, with a heavy emphasis on former special operations soldiers, give the agency top tier candidates who are mature, have real world experience, and an extraordinary level of determination.
“The Department of Defense has trained them, and now we get to give them some additional training and then put them out there to try and do this important work,” Saldana continued. “This is very demanding and really, really difficult work, and this is a ready pool of people who have a great chance of success.”
Of the 83 graduates of the program since it’s inception, 22 have already been hired by ICE>
J. Christian, the Chief Operating Officer of the National Association to Protect Children, said the special operations troops bring a specialized skillset to the mission of hunting down child predators.
“They’ve proven themselves time and time again to be the best of the best,” Christian said. “They understand where there’s a mission like this to take on, they go after it with all they have. The mentality they bring in has been unmatched.”
A former Army Ranger himself, Christian has recruited more than 11 Rangers into the program.
“Finding a child, even rescuing one child, is worth it,” said Capt. George Riley, who is awaiting his medical retirement from the Army is another soldier who graduated with Block.
Riley deployed five times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan with the 56th Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment, attached to 5th Special Forces Group. He was wounded by an IED in Mosul, Iraq and says the HERO Corps is giving him a second chance.
“My physical limitations stop me from doing some things I want, but this opportunity came about. I have a daughter. The stuff that goes on, somebody has to step up and do the dirty work.”