- Associated Press - Friday, December 19, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Michael Theberge is working at becoming a HERO.

If all goes well, at the end of a year’s internship, he’ll make a career of being a HERO.

HERO - Human Exploitation Rescue Operative - Child Rescue Corps is a program of Homeland Security Investigations that trains wounded war veterans from the U.S. armed services to do complicated, sophisticated computer forensics work in child sexual exploitation investigations.

Theberge is an intern in the program in the Reno HSI office.

A former Green Beret, he was heading for retirement after being hit with medical problems resulting from his military service. After a deployment in Afghanistan in 2012-2013, Theberge’s body “just shut down,” he said, and his doctor told him to retire or get a desk job.

A desk job wasn’t in him, so he chose retirement, but then he heard about HERO. He jumped at the chance to protect children.

“I’m serving a better purpose and helping to rescue kids,” said Theberge, 35 and a single father of three children. “Once they mentioned helping kids who were being sexually exploited, I jumped on it.”

In April 2013, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations partnered with the U.S. Special Operations Command and the National Association to Protect Children to launch the HERO Child Rescue Corps that would train wounded, ill or injured special operations forces to work on child sexual exploitation cases.

Theberge is among HEROs first class of trainees, who now are in the internship phase of the program, a five-year, $10 million initiative underwritten with private-sector money.

The hope is to train 200 people for the program over the next five years, said Kyle Burns, resident agent in charge of the Reno Homeland Security Investigations office, which covers Northern Nevada and Eastern California.

“We trained at certification in computer knowledge, working with computer forensics on programs that help find what we’re looking for,” Theberge said.

Learning to save children also involved collective exercises and role-playing in things like seizing computers used in child exploitation and engaging in mock trials of suspected perpetrators.

Upon completion of the program, trainees who move into jobs will assist Homeland Security Investigations personnel in identifying children caught up in exploitation.

The Reno office, working with other local law enforcement, rescued four children last year, Burns said.

“One (perpetrator) got 19 years and another got 20 years,” Burns said. “At HSI, (child exploitation) is one of our major investigative areas.”

It’s not an easy job.

“As for me, when I look at the videos, pictures, (of exploited children) I do not have the sound on, I do not look at the kids’ eyes. I just get what we need to prosecute,” Theberge said. “It’s still hard. It still affects you. But you do what you have to do.”

The hardest part of training HERO trainees probably involves finding people who can handle the materials related to cases of child sexual exploitation, said Melissa McDonald, a special agent in the Reno office.

“Because with what we deal with, it’s important that individuals be capable of processing the information,” she said. “It’s an honor to be able to provide (Theberge) the oversight so he understands the process of computer forensics.

“He’s excited to learn, and in our job that’s refreshing - to be able to have a tool set and hit the ground running,” she said.

Theberge was born and raised in Springfield, Mass. He joined the Army and went to Fort Hood, Texas, as a gunner on a tank. After serving his four years, he got out of the Army and stayed in Texas.

“Then I realized I could serve a better purpose and became an Army Green Beret,” he said. “I was stationed in Fort Campbell, Ky., in 5th Special Forces Group. I did multiple deployments in Iraq, Oman and Afghanistan.

When his medical problems arose, he took a chance on HERO when the organizing coalition contacted him.

“I came home and my body just shut down,” Theberge said of his medical problems. “If you go too hard for too long - my back and legs gave out on me.”

A few weeks into his year-long internship, Theberge likes Reno and hopes to remain here working in the Reno office once his training is complete. He has moved here with his children, ages 13, 11 and 8.

“Our goal is to keep Mike here,” Burns said. “We are an incredibly busy office covering 13 northern Nevada counties and 8 eastern California counties with eight people. Now, we have one special agent in full-time forensics. Mike can allow her to do more in investigation.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get an elite warrior,” Burns said.

___

Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, https://www.rgj.com


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide