NWA veteran finds new purpose with Homeland Security HERO program

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) – A nationwide program is giving injured veterans a new purpose in life after returning home and leaving service by training them to become forensic computer analysts.

That includes a Fayetteville veteran who played a significant role in one of the most high-profile trials to unfold in northwest Arkansas.

“Since I was 10, I’ve always wanted to join the military,” Marshall Kennedy said.

This childhood dream came true when Kennedy decided to join the Marines in August 2003.

“I did a total of four deployments while I was in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I did two in Iraq, my third was a maritime expeditionary unit.”

His fourth and final deployment to Afghanistan ended suddenly. He had his first interaction with an IED in April 2011. However, this device did not fully detonate, so his only injury was a twisted ankle.

A few months later, on Monday June 13, the result was much worse. He was a squad leader, leading a team to meet locals who said they knew where the Taliban had stored IED-making materials.

“I was watching them to make sure they were doing their job and as I turned to check on the Marines behind me to make sure they were doing their job, my left foot hit an IED,” he said. -he declares. “Ever since I had stepped on the one before I knew what that feeling was. So it went, I was slammed against the wall behind me. I wasn’t unconscious, I was dazed .

He became emotional as he expressed how proud he was of his team in how they responded to his injury, following protocol to protect themselves, while also working to provide him with first aid.

“They are the reason I am here today,” he said.

On Friday this week, he was back in the United States for treatment at what is now known as Walter Redd National Military Medical Center. He lost the lower part of both of his legs and suffered extensive damage to his left arm.

He credits his strong family support system for helping him come to terms with the loss of his legs, all of the physical therapy, and ultimately the fact that his dream military career wasn’t over.

“I always miss that, you know, not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” he said of his time in the Marines.

What next? While recovering at Walter Reed, he overheard other people who were with the inaugural HERO class talking about the program.

“The HERO program began as a pilot project in 2013,” said Brian Korzak of Homeland Security Investigations’ computer forensics unit. “What the program does is it trains wounded and injured veterans in computer forensics.”

Kennedy laughed that he joined the Marines to avoid doing any kind of work with computers. But when he was about to finish his bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas several years later, he decided to give the HERO program a try.

“When it became open on USA Jobs, it was actually July 4 when I applied,” he said.

So he went through the one-year internship program to learn about the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement basics, and computer forensic analyst training. Individuals who complete the program are placed in DHS offices across the country reviewing digital evidence of criminal cases.

“Each case contains digital evidence, so desktops, laptops, tablets, external hard drives, USB drives, you see my cell phones,” he said.

Korzak said every criminal case now has some form of digital evidence, so there is a great need to have more people who can take on this computer forensic analyst role.

“Crime has really gone digital, as has most of our daily life,” he said. “So to have more people who are able to step in and help us gather that evidence, analyze that evidence, process it, and then get to where we can get prosecutions from it, that’s fantastic to see.”

These heroes are sometimes called upon to testify in court about their discoveries. Kennedy worked on Joshua Duggar’s case and testified about how his team examined Duggar’s devices.

A jury found Duggar guilty on both counts: receiving child pornography and possessing child pornography. He is currently serving his 151-month sentence, or just over 12 years, in federal prison while his case is being appealed.

“We find a lot of veterans, they had this mission to protect and protect our country,” Korzak said of why veterans are so good in that CFA role. “These are driven individuals and we kind of try to take that drive and channel it into our fight against child exploitation and other transnational crimes that affect our country.”

“It feels good,” Kennedy said. “It always gives you purpose and that’s really what everyone needs in their life, that’s purpose.”

Korzak said 129 injured veterans have been hired by Homeland Security Investigations since the program began.

HSI only opens the application for the program once a year. Go to www.ice.gov/hero or keep an eye on US Jobs Site for when this app will go live in 2023.

Ryan H. Bowman