From rooting out the enemy overseas, to rooting them out back at home, there’s a new type of ‘hero’ in town working hard to keep kids safe from predators.
After five tours serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, retired U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Wooten’s military career as a sniper ended with a helicopter crash.
“When you join the military you’re around your brothers,” explained Wooten. “People that you fight, bleed and sweat with, and one day, you’re not in the military… and you’re kind of searching.”
That’s where the HERO program comes in.
The National Association to Protect Children, PROTECT, for short, is a non-profit that helped launch the program in 2013. HERO stands for Human Exploitation Rescue Operatives and together with the federal government, wounded warriors can take part in a one year, non-paid internship training to become certified in computer forensics. The goal is help fight online child exploitation.
“Kids are very innocent. Kids can’t protect themselves,” said Wooten.
After his year of training, he got a job as a computer forensic analyst at the Homeland Security field office in Fort Myers.
“You know, when you go in the military, you sign up to protect your country,” he explained. “Now I get to do that, here at home.”
Wooten works cases from beginning to end; starting with search warrants, heading to sites with agents to collect evidence, all the way through trial, even testifying against the defendant.
Wooten admits this job isn’t for everyone. A large part of it involves collecting evidence which includes disturbing images. Wooten says at the end of the day, he comes to work to keep kids safe.
“I’m putting a bad guy away that is preying on children.”
Ralph DeFelice, special agent in charge for the Fort Myers HSI office, says he couldn’t be happier with the hero program.
“Everyday they go above and beyond both in their analysis and their computer forensics in these assisted cases,” he said. “They work very long hours, they have a very high attention to detail.”
And the HERO program is helping the government put more criminals behind bars.
“They’re able to reduce our backlog by about 70 percent which has gone a long way to bring cases forward to bring criminals to justice.”
Learn more about the HERO program here.