Far from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan Army Ranger Oskar Zepeda is fighting a different kind of battle here at home -- the war against child predators. He meticulously dismantles a laptop believed to contain images of child pornography.
"Yeah these guys, they can't get away. We can pretty much find anything on any hard drive," said Zepeda.
Zepeda is one of 17 special ops interns with Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security investigations, following a storied career as an Army Ranger.
"Nine tours, yes. I did three to Iraq, six to Afghanistan. I've seen it all, I've done it all."
That experience makes him uniquely qualified to hunt down an enemy here at home: "We identify an individual," Zepeda said. "We go to their house with a search warrant, find evidence and hopefully prosecute the individual and put them behind bars."
ICE launched the HERO internship program last fall and it's already looking to expand it's next class of interns.
"Special Ops veterans bring to the table a level of skill and dedication as well as a mental agility that is very sought after in this line of work," said ICE Public Affairs Officer, Andrew Munoz.
Zepeda underwent a strict vetting process before graduating from 10 weeks of computer forensics training. He hopes this internship launches a new career after a hand grenade on a taliban commander cut short his career with the army.
"I fell back, realized I was missing my quad, my hamstring. I couldn't move," Zepeda said.
Three years and 25 surgeries later Zepeda is finding success on a new mission-- scouring the hard drives of computers confiscated from suspected child predators. They are images disturbing even for veteran agents. But Zepeda-- a soldier who's seen it all, also knows how to see the bigger picture.
"You don't get attached to what you're seeing. You just identify what it is and move on."
ICE also has counselors available. "We're specifically monitoring our HERO interns working in this area to make sure they're not being impacted by what they're seeing," said Munoz.
The impact on ICE's caseload has been so remarkable the agency is expanding the program and the possibilities for soldiers like Zepeda.
"It gives me a lot of satisfaction knowing I'm here and still serving my country. And I'm happy, I'm happy doing this kind of stuff."
Zepeda's internship runs until November. There's no guarantee of a job at the end of it, but ICE is trying to find money to create permanent positions for wounded warriors like Zepeda.
ICE is recruiting its next class of Special Ops interns. Transitioning and recently transitioned special operations wounded warriors interested in the program can email email@example.com.