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OMAHA, Neb. — HERO Corps graduate and Omaha native Jeremy Smith never doubted that he’d serve his country. The only question for him was how — until he spoke to a Marine Corps recruiter in May 2006. Shortly after that conversation, Smith enlisted as a U.S. Marine tank mechanic, which eventually led to his assignment as a route clearance team leader during two combat deployments to Southwest Asia.
In October 2014, Smith was honorably discharged from the military. Though he received several job offers, none fulfilled his desire to continue to serve his community. During a routine appointment at the Omaha VA Medical Center, Smith and his physical therapist began discussing the cybersecurity degree Smith was pursuing. His clinician suggested Homeland Security Investigations, commonly called HSI, and its HERO program. Smith, interested in learning more, began researching it.
The HERO Corps recruits, trains and hires wounded and ill transitioning service members and veterans to support HSI in the areas of child exploitation investigation, child victim identification, traveling child sex offenders and digital forensics.
“Having to end your military career early is not always easy for many veterans,” said Smith. “But the HERO Corps gives us the opportunity to continue to serve our country while making an impact on public safety. The HERO Corps takes eligible veterans who may or may not have any computer experience and trains them to conduct complex forensic tasks. It’s fulfilling to be able to wake up, go to work and know that I am still making a difference — just this time on the home front.”
“HERO Corps is an excellent example of what can be gained through fostering innovative partnerships between government agencies, Department of Defense partners, and nongovernmental organizations to support our wounded warriors’ transition to civilian life,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Steve Francis. “The name of this program could not be more apt — the veterans who do this work are indeed heroes.”
Initially established as a pilot initiative in 2013, President Barack Obama signed the HERO Act into law May 29, 2015, which formalized and endorsed HERO Corps administered by HSI’s C3. Congress strengthened the HERO Corps program through the passage of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017, making it a DHS-wide program, opening it to all military service branches and providing pay for interns. Since its launch, the program has trained nearly 170 veterans in forensics to support HSI’s child exploitation investigations.
The 12th HERO Corps class graduated after 13 weeks of HSI agency introduction and computer forensics training. Smith and the other graduates will continue their one-year internship with nine months of hands-on training as they’re mentored by HSI computer forensic agents in field offices.
HSI’s special agents work tirelessly around the world with a victim-centered approach to protect children from exploitation. In fiscal year 2021, HSI arrested 3,776 individuals for perpetrating crimes against children and rescued or identified 1,177 child victims of sexual exploitation and abuse. Learn more about their work in combating traditional and financial sextortion of teens and children.
“There is no greater mission than to be able to help children who are being endangered and exploited,” said Smith. “Having an opportunity to use my digital skills, military experience and education to help further HSI’s mission are just an added bonus.”
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents the Department of Homeland Security’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.
Learn more about the child exploitation mission in your community on Twitter @HSIKansasCity.
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