(WBIR) Labor Day held special meaning for a group of wounded veterans who were out of work this time last year. Now, through a program based in Knoxville, most of them have jobs with Homeland Security Investigations catching child predators.
In March 2013, the National Association to Protect Children announced a new five-year initiative through the Weiss Center for Child Rescue & Protection Technology. The Human Exploitation Rescue Operatives (HERO) Child-Rescue Corps program trains wounded veterans to track child porn and catch predators.
This time last year, they were wrapping up their training at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). These cyber warriors spent about four weeks learning how to use the ORNL technology.
In November 2013, they started a one-year internship. That internship was cut short in May when ICE Homeland Security Investigations hired 14 of them, full-time, as computer forensic analysts.
"We all just immediately started working," said Army Veteran Shannon Krieger, a HERO who now works for Homeland Security Investigations in New Orleans.
He told 10News through a phone interview, "There's a huge backlog that we are now dealing with and we are now helping make smaller."
Krieger became medically retired after suffering multiple injuries in a helicopter crash during Operation Enduring Freedom.
"I went from being an active duty operator to being a support personnel. So it was a very difficult transition," Krieger told 10News back in August 2013.
Krieger is now using the training he learned at ORNL to track child predators every day.
"I hate telling everybody that I love my job because I basically deal with child porn on a daily basis but I really do enjoy the work that I do because I get to chase bad guys again. I feel like I'm focused again. I feel motivated again," he said.
A second class of HEROs is now going through the same training.
Krieger is the president of the HERO Corps Alumni Association. His class is the first and only class to complete the training so far. HEROs from the first class are serving as mentors to the second class right now.
"Veterans now days, who are out there looking for work, the big thing is to try to find something that makes you want to work again. This has done that for me," he said.
According to Krieger, the program hopes to train at least five different classes.