Twenty-two military veterans embarked on an entirely new mission for the United States as they were sworn in by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on June 19.
The Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child-Rescue Corps Program recruits wounded, injured and ill veterans from all states to help combat online child exploitation through high-tech computer forensics training, according to the program's website.
A joint partnership by the National Association to Protect Children, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Special Operations Command, HERO Corps presented its first graduating class in 2013.
Marine Sgt. Justin Gaertner, who lost both his legs in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan, was a member of the first HERO Corps class.
Gaertner told ABC News that “words can’t really describe” the satisfaction he receives in catching child predators.
“It’s never ending … [the] despicable things that people are doing to children,” he said.
Robert Clegg, a 50-year-old military veteran who served 26 years in the Army, was part of the third and most recent graduating class. He joined HERO Corps after retiring from the Army in 2012 due to a brain injury from a rocket blast in Afghanistan, according to Indy Star.
“Once I got an understanding of what it was all about, I was all-in,” Clegg said.
“It's a new mission," he added. "And it’s kind of like still serving my country, but in a different capacity.”
Another Army veteran and recent HERO Corps graduate, identified only as Joey, says the program allows him to continue his passion — helping people.
“What I found was that I had to get back to what really drove me as an individual before my injury,” Joey told WUSA.
At the graduation ceremony on June 19, Johnson commented on a similar motivation existing within the 22 graduates.
“You want to rebuild. You want to get back into the fight,” he said. "That strength and character is what we see reflected in the 22 graduates we have here."
More than 5.2 million gigabytes of data involving child exploitation cases were seized by ICE and over 2,300 child predators were arrested last year, according to ABC News.