WASHINGTON -

Seventeen veterans were sworn in Friday as part of the inaugural class of Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps, better known as HERO Corps, to fight child porn and sexual exploitation, according to a news release from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The HERO Corps program was developed as a joint affair by ICE, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Department of Defense and the National Association to Protect Children.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers, U.S. ICE Acting Director John Sandweg, U.S. Special Operations Command Director of the Care Coalition Kevin McDonnell and National Association to Protect Children Executive Director Grier Weeks were present as 17 HEROs prepare to start in a one-year pilot program that works with ICE  offices across the United States.

Many of the chosen participants were wounded in the line of duty, and they will be assisting special agents with criminal investigations involving child pornography and online sexual exploitation.

“DHS continues to focus on bringing perpetrators of online child exploitation to justice, with a priority on protecting children from these predators,” Beers said.  “The goal of this initiative is to give our nation’s military veterans a chance to continue to serve at home for a righteous cause. Through this program, they are trained to fight on a new battlefield to protect the innocence of children at home and around the world.”

The HEROs started off with four weeks of intensive training at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee, learning about child exploitation cases and the laws that they will be helping to enforce. Thereafter, they completed seven weeks of computer forensic analysis training and practicing digital evidence collecting at the HSI's Cyber Crime Center in Fairfax, Va.

“ICE is on the front lines of the fight against online child exploitation and there are none better to join with us than veterans of the U.S. military,” said Acting ICE Director Sandweg. “We are proud to work with these veterans to stand watch over the most vulnerable among us and to bring these perpetrators to justice.”

HERO Corps participants will be based at HSI offices, which include three offices in Florida --  one each in Orlando, Miami and Tampa. There, they will work under HSI special agents, conducting computer forensic exams, assisting with criminal investigations and helping to identify and rescue child victims.

In fiscal year 2013 to date, more than 2,000 child predators have been arrested by HSI on criminal charges related to the online sexual exploitation of children. Since 2003, HSI has initiated more than 29,000 cases and arrested more than 10,000 individuals for these types of crimes.

The HERO Corps program is expected to begin early next year for its next recruitment class.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program or applying, should send an email to hero@ice.dhs.gov, and from there, applicants will be interviewed and vetted to ensure they are a good fit for the HERO Corps program.