Courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Kevin LeDuc returned from four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan relatively unscathed, only to see his hopes of a career combating crime dashed by a car accident.
On Friday, he graduated from a new federal program that trains wounded veterans in the investigation of crimes against children, and he is on his way back to Las Vegas to put his new skills to use.
LeDuc knew in high school he wanted to be in law enforcement, and he planned accordingly while daydreaming of kicking down doors on his way to busting drug traffickers and other criminals.
After finishing high school, the Cathedral City, Calif., native got his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He joined the Army because he wanted to serve his country, figuring there was no better way to get the weapons and tactical experience he needed for a career in law enforcement.
LeDuc, though, will not be kicking down any doors in the near future. After returning to the United States after his fourth deployment — “getting shot at and all that fun stuff,” as he put it — LeDuc was involved in a car accident in 2009 that mangled his right leg. He has gone through nine surgeries just to get it in “somewhat working condition.”
But through a new program for injured or disabled veterans, LeDuc has gotten a second chance at a career in law enforcement. He is a member of the first class of the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps, or HERO Corps, a program developed by Homeland Security Investigations, the Department of Defense and the National Association to Protect Children.
The veterans, who will be assigned to Homeland Security Investigation offices in 11 states, spent approximately three months training in cyber forensics and other skills so they could join the federal teams that investigate crimes against children.
“It was a brilliant idea,” said Michael Harris, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Las Vegas. “It’s a great way to support our military veterans who are already highly trained. It takes a lot of time and training for someone to become a computer forensics agent, and if I have to assign one of my own agents to that, it takes them away from other criminal investigations.”
LeDuc, 31, graduated Friday with his 16 classmates and will be deployed to the Las Vegas Homeland Security Investigations office at the end of the month.
“This was sort of my last chance to get involved with the government,” he said in a phone interview Friday. “I can’t be the guy kicking down the door, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help catch criminals.”
Homeland Security Investigations, a division of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is charged with investigating immigration crime, human rights violations, human smuggling, narcotics smuggling, weapons and other types of contraband, financial crimes and cybercrime, among other criminal activities.
In Las Vegas, LeDuc will do the computer forensics work needed to catch those who distribute child pornography online. He’ll also work to find missing and endangered children.
“With cybercrime, you need to gather evidence to put somebody away,” LeDuc said. “We extract data and information from computers, cellphones, laptops, whatever media device they have. We use certain tools to get that data off the device, including getting pictures to show the jury. Computer forensics is the hidden side behind law enforcement.”
LeDuc, a special operations infantryman, Ranger and parachutist in the Army, was a member of a unit that took control of airfields. His training for his new post was much different, a greater challenge of the mind rather than physical ability.
First, the 17 trainees spent four weeks at Oak Ridge National Laboratory learning about child-exploitation crimes and the federal laws they would be enforcing. Next, they went for seven weeks to Homeland Security Investigations’ Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., where they dove into the technology and computer forensics techniques.
“It was really challenging. The second portion was definitely harder, the computer forensics training,” LeDuc said. “Ninety percent of the class were not huge computer guys, so they needed to bring us up to speed on the special skills we needed and all of the technology.”
The HERO program is a five-year, $10 million initiative funded with private sector money that underwrites training, logistics and equipment. Recruitment for the next group trainees is expected to begin in early 2014. Anyone interested in learning more about the program or applying, should send an email to [email protected].