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November 23, 2020Tampa, FLUnited StatesOperational, Child Exploitation

Computer forensic analysts celebrate 10-year Alive Day

TAMPA – Two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) computer forensic analysts are preparing to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their joint Alive Day.

Wondering what an Alive Day is? An Alive Day is the anniversary of the date when a veteran almost lost their life in combat.

Justin Gaertner, of HSI Tampa and Gabriel (Gabe) Martinez, of HSI Denver, were both wounded while on a route clearance mission outside Marjah in Afghanistan's southwestern Helmand province on Nov. 26, 2010.

When asked what has changed the most in their lives since their Alive Day, Gaertner said, “Since 2010, I married the love of my life and started a family together. My wife and daughter are my rock and I could not imagine a life without them.”

Martinez shared, “In the past 10 years, there have been so many changes, including a new career, three children, and my age, but the greatest change in my life has to be where I am mentally; coming from the battlefield, somewhere with so much loss and uncertainty, to today in my life, there has been so much gain and so much positive outlook to the future.”

Both Veterans joined HSI through the HERO (Human Exploitation Rescue Operative) program, which was developed to help HSI meet the growing backlog of child exploitation and human trafficking cases. The HERO program was developed by HSI and U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) in conjunction with the National Association to Protect Children. Gaertner was part of the first HERO Corps in 2013 and Martinez joined in 2015.

As these two Veterans look to their Alive Day, they both reflected on how HSI has been a part of their journey.

“HSI has been the new milestone and mission for me. Every combat-oriented person coming from the service is mission-driven, and when we leave active service, we seem to lose our mission; HSI has given me that new mission,” Martinez said. “My wife and I often talk about how grateful we are that HSI adopted me, and so many alike, because it has been the most fitting, accommodating, and accepting place for a jarhead like me, and Justin.”

Gaertner said picking a single achievement is difficult, “Working child exploitation cases are all great professional achievements; there’s nothing more rewarding than rescuing children and arresting child predators,” he said. “If I truly had to choose, I would say HSI’s incident response to the Naval Air Station Pensacola shooting. The only computer forensic analysts on scene were all former HEROs from Tampa, Pensacola, and Mobile. It was heartwarming to see how far the HERO corps has come and how well we all worked together. The HERO CFA’s provided real-time analysis and intel to leadership and agents on-scene and all responded within a moment’s notice.”

The HERO program was created to provide wounded, injured and ill Special Operations Forces an opportunity to receive training in high-tech computer forensics and law enforcement skills, to assist federal agents in the fight against online child sexual exploitation.

The military camaraderie the two Veteran HEROs share is evident, “Without Martinez, I wouldn’t have made it by myself; he is truly the only reason I survived my injuries, Gaertner said. “Having him by my side throughout the entire journey made everything ok. I think we can both agree that we have done more without legs than we did with them. We have only grown stronger since 2010 and there is nothing that can stop us from achieving success.”

Talking about his relationship with Gaertner, Martinez said, “Being able to share the worst and best day of your life with you best friend is hard to describe. No one wants to be in the worst situations of their lives with their best friend, but to have them there is invaluable,” Martinez continued, “Justin has been one person that knows exactly what I’m going through; not only experiences on the battlefield and being wounded, but now with our new mission with HSI. He is and always will be my brother, and the bond we share is one in a million. I love that guy.”

And of course, in addition to professional accomplishments, they both have personal successes also, which are similar, Gaertner shared, “My daughter is my greatest personal achievement by far. She is our angel and a blessing from above.”

Martinez said, “My greatest personal achievement is my family; My wife and kids are more than I deserve, but I am grateful for them.”

Finally, as the duo look forward to their Alive Day, they offer this advice:

Gaertner said, “Alive day is not a day of sorrow but a day of happiness; to remember how far you’ve come in life and that you can conquer any obstacle set in front of you.”

Martinez added, “An Alive Day is an annual reminder that YOU are alive; it’s a day that easily could have or should have been your last day on this earth, but it wasn’t. Because it wasn’t, whether you escaped that fate or were spared, there is a reason you were given another chance and it is up to you to live a life worthy of a second chance.” He ended with, “A quote that has helped me all these years is “Tough times don’t last, but tough Marines (people) do.”

Updated: 11/20/2020