by: Mark Winne Updated:
ATLANTA - Former U.S. Army airborne soldier Chris Lehmann says he’s not allowed to talk about some of the sensitive combat missions he carried out overseas, but now he’s going into battle against the nearly unspeakable evil of those who prey on children.
When Channel 2’s Mark Winne met him, his thirst for service and his love of the military were palpable, as it was for two other wounded warriors Winne spoke to who’ve now been assigned to Georgia.
“I remember as a kid I was big into the medieval times knights. They had a code that they lived by: defending those that can’t defend themselves,” Lehmann said. “That was something I lived by -- always trying to help somebody that can’t help themselves.”
He spoke about his oath to enlist. “There was one part of the oath that stood out for me, and that was, ‘I will defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.’” He added, “Now the threat is domestic. I’m not fighting the enemy on a foreign ground, I’m fighting the enemy in our ground, in our back yards, in our streets.”
This story may hold particular appeal for parents and patriots. Unfortunately, it’s a good bet predators are studying it too.
“They are an intelligent enemy that studies everything we do to thwart our ability to apprehend them,” said Brock Nicholson, agent-in-charge of the three-state Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office headquartered in metro Atlanta.
So Nicholson said child predators around the world will undoubtedly learn everything they can about a new weapon in the ICE arsenal to track down child pornographers, those who traffic in it and those who provide a market for it.
“As members of the Department of Homeland Security, we find no greater priority than to provide security for our children,” Nicholson told us.
But no matter how fervently predators gather intelligence on this new initiative, they will be powerless to stop it, the veteran ICE agent said. He was referring to a plan to take select wounded warriors from the U.S. military, school them in special forensic techniques and turn them loose in cyberspace to hunt down what is, for them, a new enemy.
“Yes, I’ve seen some bad things in combat,” said former U.S. Marine Jeremy Boutwell, assigned now to work with ICE in metro Atlanta. “I’ve seen some pretty bad things that humanity is capable of doing in certain situations.”
He added, “This stuff is worse, without a doubt.”
Importantly, Nicholson said they’re also trained to hunt for clues about “where these acts of child rape are videoed.” He related that, even before training was completed, one of the wounded warriors, Army Reserve Capt. Hampton Culp, helped break a case that led to the rescue of a child whose abuse had been broadcast online.
To bring viewers a more vivid view of the war these veterans are joining, Winne got exclusive access to undercover video from the successful investigation of a metro Atlanta teacher and an extraordinary interview with the veteran ICE undercover agent who helped take him down.
“To take bad guys off the street, to serve my country and to protect my children, your children and other children-- I mean, truly if there was something that the Lord intended for me to do, it would be to do this job,” Agent David Westall said.
Nicholson said to date no journalist has gotten an in-depth look at this program that comes close to what Channel 2 Action News has seen.
He told Winne that, officially, the wounded warriors will be on a 10-month internship, but ICE hopes those internships become full-time jobs. Nicholson confirmed that of the 17 fanned out across the country, four will be in Georgia.
“I think that what you have is one of the best child exploitation efforts coming from Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Atlanta, and in the region,” said Camille Cooper from the National Association to Protect Children—called “Protect” for short. She called Nicholson “one of the best in the country.”
But also, she added, “You have a concentration of child pornography leads in urban areas. You know, where there’s high-speed Internet you are going to find concentrations of perpetrators. It doesn’t mean that they don’t exist in rural areas.”
The wounded warrior initiative is an unusual joint project between ICE and Protect. Cooper said the non-profit can bring corporate support and other things to the table that ICE, as a government agency, cannot solicit. She said that’s especially important in these lean economic times.
“There are children literally that are waiting,” she told us. “They’re waiting and every night they go to bed and they pray. They pray to God and they say, ‘God, please come save me from this hell. Please rescue me. Please make this stop.’”
Cooper says not all participants nationwide had combat wounds. She says some of them suffered other illnesses or injuries while serving.