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Iraq War veteran turns fight towards child exploitation

Iraq War veteran turns fight towards child exploitation

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — With 25 years of service in the U.S. Army, Purple Heart recipient Capt. George Riley says he is ready for a new mission — protecting children from being exploited.

Riley, 46, of Egg Harbor Township, is an intern with the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child-Rescue Corp Program.

The program is through the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and the U.S. Special Operations Command in conjunction with the National Association to Protect Children.

“Anyone deployed to a third-world country sees that it is already bad enough there, and then you put a war on top of that. This mission is different because these kids don’t have a voice to tell their story,” Riley said.

John Kelleghan, Homeland Security Investigations Philadelphia special agent in charge, said Riley’s war zone deployment experience and military background is invaluable to the office.

“We are asking them to come off the battlefield and go into a classroom and deal with troubling child exploitation. And they are energetic to focus on a new threat that is happening around the country and world,” Kelleghan said.

Riley’s Army flag flies from his front porch. The inside of his home is decorated with patriotic art, medals and memorabilia from his military career. He speaks softly and his wife Kim Riley said her husband of 25 years is a modest man.

“He doesn’t say much, but that’s George. He internalizes. He’s very smart and doesn’t come off as your typical Army Special Forces guy,” Kim Riley said as she smiled at her husband Thursday.

She said the pride she has for her husband has outweighed any of her fears over the last 25 years.

Riley was deployed to Iraq four times, Afghanistan once and Kuwait once. On July 25, 2004, he was riding a Land Rover in Iraq with Albanian coalition soldiers when it drove over an improvised explosive device that launched the vehicle 15 feet in the air. He injured his back and shoulders and received the Purple Heart.

Riley is still active duty in the Army, but said he will end his career soon with a medical retirement.

Riley is the recipient of a Purple Heart, two Meritorious Service Medals, seven Army Commendation Medals, nine Army Achievement Medals, one NATO Non-Article 5 Medal for his service in Afghanistan, and one Joint Service Achievement Medal.

“The mission for me now is to take the child predators off the street. As heroes in this program, we chose a way to give back and continue on what we were doing to make the world a safer place,” said Riley, who graduated from the HERO program in April.

Riley said the training was 11 weeks and is now followed by a 10-month internship in the field.

The program, unveiled in 2013, is designed for wounded, injured and ill Special Operations Forces who work as unpaid interns and receive training in high-tech computer forensics and law enforcement skills. During and after training the interns assist federal agents to investigate and fight online child sexual exploitation.

Off the battlefield, Riley now works with ICE and HIS special agents and other forensic examiners at the United States Custom House in Philadelphia. He is the program’s first intern in Philadelphia. He works in a small room filled with computers and piles of electronic equipment.

“This program is not as big a culture shift as you would think. Here they catch people who are in the shadows, breaking the law and exploiting children. It’s not too different from the work I was doing,” he said.

He said he hopes to land a job with a law enforcement agency at the end of the internship.

“The federal government will use the resources to save just one child. In the end rescuing these kids is what we want to do,” he said.

For more information about the HERO program or to apply go to www.ice.gov/hero.

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