Justin Gaertner was planning to make the Marine Corps his life, but everything changed when he lost his legs after stepping on an IED, during his third deployment to Afghanistan.
His life now has renewed purpose, he tells WFLA, as a member of a new program called the HERO Corps.
H.E.R.O. stands for “Human Exploitation Rescue Operative” Child-Rescue Corps — a program developed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.
HERO is made up of a unique group of men – combat-wounded warriors – who have a new mission in life: to hunt down some of the most horrible human beings on the planet.
“It’s just disgusting, nothing is going to compare to what comes across those computer screens. The unfortunate thing is, once I think I’ve seen the worst video or seen the worst picture, it gets even worse,” said Gaertner.
He and other military vets learn how to go after pedophiles and child pornographers during a one-year unpaid internship.
Army veteran Joshua Turner is also training with the HERO Corps. “When you’re in the Army you’re built to have some sort of purpose and that purpose is a mission. When I got injured, that mission aspect kind of left me and I needed to be able to do something,” he said.
With so many offenders across the country, it takes time and dedication to catch all these culprits. Turner says, after spending hours and weeks working on a case, the payoff is seeing an offender placed under arrest.
After undergoing the intensive training through the ICE program, the interns of the HERO Corps can work with the federal government or with local law enforcement across the country, tracking down these criminals.
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