NEWARK — Wounded or disabled military veterans have a chance to help fight child exploitation from within New Jersey, under a federal program.

The Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps is a paid federal internship that trains veterans as computer forensic analysts, who then help federal homeland security agents and other law enforcement in prosecuting sexual predators and rescuing victims of child sexual abuse.

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George Riley is a Camden County native who successfully completed the HERO program in 2016 and now is a cyber operations officer with Homeland Security Investigations.

In-state headquarters are in Newark, while there are satellite field offices in Cherry Hill and Atlantic City.

The program is open to wounded, ill or injured veterans and transitioning service members— which, Riley notes, is not just combat wounded veterans, but anyone wounded during military service.

Newark is among more than 60 training locations across the country, with nearly 80 potential permanent job sites for those hired after completing the roughly 10 month long program. Fully trained interns are eligible for hiring in locations that correspond to their internship location, according to the program website.

Since its start as a pilot program in 2013, there have been 10 classes of HERO interns, from which the government has hired over 150 veterans turned computer forensic analysts.

About 80% are still employed by the agency, Riley said.

Applications normally are accepted twice a year, but this round is the first hiring that is being done since the pandemic first hit last year, though April 9th, through an online process.

Riley transferred to his new position, along with 16 others, at the start of the pandemic. He said he finds the career, which he started while transitioning from active military life, to be rewarding.

“I’m surrounded by professionals who take pride in their work, and they strive each day to make a difference in their community,” he said to New Jersey 101.5.

He added that a case may begin in New Jersey but can easily lead to arrests in other parts of the country, given the nature of cases involving online child predators and potential victims. The job involves constant partnership with law enforcement at the state and county levels.

In addition to cases involving child exploitation, Riley also has assisted on national security financial crimes, human trafficking, other cyber crimes and narcotics, he said.

Last fiscal year, the agency was able to rescue 1,000 victims of child exploitation, by using such computer forensic tools, Riley noted.

The HERO Program is operated by HSI in partnership with the Department of Defense and the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT).

Proof of U.S. Citizenship, honorable discharge and a VA/DOD disability rating or statement of service are among application requirements, as are a federal background check, drug test screening and psychological test.

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