FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — A national program is giving wounded veterans a new purpose in life after they’ve returned home and have left the service by training them to become computer forensic analysts.
That includes one Fayetteville veteran who played an important role in one of the most high-profile trials to happen in Northwest Arkansas.
“Since I was 10-years-old, I always wanted to join the military,” said Marshall Kennedy.
That childhood dream came true when Kennedy decided to join the Marines in August of 2003.
“I did a total of four deployments while I was in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I did two in Iraq, my third one was a marine expeditionary unit.”
His fourth and final deployment to Afghanistan ended suddenly. He had his first interaction with an IED in April of 2011. However, that IED didn’t fully detonate, so his only injury was a twisted ankle.
Just a few months later, on Monday, June 13th, 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 some IED-making materials.
“I was watching them to make sure they’re doing their job and as I was turning to check the Marines behind me to make sure they’re doing their job, my left foot hit IED,” he said. “Since I had stepped on the one before, I knew what that feeling was. So it went off, I got slammed against the wall behind me. I wasn’t unconscious, I was dazed.”
He got emotional expressing how proud he was of his team in how they responded to his injury, following protocol to keep themselves safe, while also working to provide first aid to him.
“They are the reason I’m here today,” he said.
By Friday of that week, he was back in the U.S. getting treatment at what’s now known as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He lost the lower part of both legs and had significant damage to his left arm.
He credits his strong family support system for getting him through coming to terms with losing his legs, all the physical therapy and eventually with the fact that his dream military career was not over.
“I still miss it, you know, there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about it,” he said of his time in the Marines.
So what next? While recovering at Walter Reed, he heard some other people who were with the inaugural HERO class talking about the program.
“The HERO program started as a pilot in 2013,” said Brian Korzak, Unit for the Computer Forensics Unit at Homeland Security Investigations. “What the program does is it trains wounded and injured veterans in computer forensics.”
Kennedy laughed as he said he joined the Marines to avoid doing any kind of work with computers. But as he was coming close to finishing his bachelors 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 for it,” he said.
So he went through the year-long internship program learning about the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement basics and computer forensic analyst training. People who complete the program are placed at DHS offices around the country, examining digital evidence for criminal cases.
“Every case it has digital evidence, so desktops, laptops, tablets, external hard drives, thumb drives, you see my cell phones,” he said.
Korzak said every criminal case now has some form of digital evidence to it, so having more people who can step into this computer forensic analyst role is very needed.
“Crime has really gone digital, just like most of our everyday life,” he said. “So having more people that are able to step in and help us gather that evidence, analyze that evidence, process that evidence and then make it to where we can get prosecutions out of it is fantastic to see.”
These heroes are sometimes called to testify in court about their findings. Kennedy worked on Joshua Duggar’s case, and testified about how his team examined Duggar’s devices.
A jury found Duggar guilty on both charges he faced: receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography. He is currently serving his 151 month sentence, a little more than 12 years, in federal prison while his case is appealed.
“We find a lot of veterans, they had this mission to protect and to protect our country,” said Korzak on why veterans are so good in this CFA role. “They’re driven individuals and we kind of try and take that drive and point it towards our fight against child exploitation and other trans-national crimes that affect our country.”
“It feels good,” said Kennedy. “It still gives you a purpose and that’s really what everybody needs in their life is purpose.”
Korzak said 129 wounded veterans have been hired by Homeland Security Investigations since the program started.