By Kevin Freking, AP
WASHINGTON–Oskar Zepeda has had pretty much one mission in his life: kill or capture.
After serving nine tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he now has a new target — child predators.
Zepeda, 29, is part of a 17-member class of veterans trained in computer forensics and sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement field offices. They aren’t paid, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll have a full-time job when their one-year stint ends.
But the interns are finding the purpose of their new mission outweighs financial considerations.
“I love challenges. And I have a family of my own,” said Zepeda, whose military career was cut short by a hand grenade and the 25 operations that followed. “I feel I’m still serving my country and protecting my family at the same time.”
For Shannon Krieger, who was in the Army and is now assigned to an ICE office in New Orleans, “This was a new fight I could sink my teeth into. That’s what really I was looking for. I wasn’t just going to take a job so I can have a paycheck.”
Federal officials say a children’s lobbying group, PROTECT, pitched the idea of incorporating wounded veterans in the fight against child pornography. ICE Special Agent Patrick Redling said the agency, where veterans account for 30 percent of the workforce, ran with the idea.
“They built their career upon fighting for this country and keeping citizens of this country safe,” Redling said. “What better to get somebody already with that mindset into a program where it’s another battlefield, very similar, but you’re keeping our children safe. You’re taking predators off the street.”
The agency relied on the U.S. Special Operations Command to get the word out to wounded service members transitioning out of the military or already separated. The veterans were given about 11 weeks of intensive computer and legal training before being assigned to an ICE field office.