In the last decade, poachers have killed more than half of central Africa's elephants.

Now, a group of U.S. veterans is rallying to stop the illegal killing of animals on the continent.

Kinessa Johnson served as an Army mechanic in Afghanistan. A knee injury sent her back to civilian life early.

"I got out. I was really confused. I kind of became a nomad for a month," she said.

She modeled for gun companies and worked as a firearms instructor.

She moved to Western Washington, always searching for the sense of purpose she'd known in the military.

That's when she met Marine Corps veteran Ryan Tate.

"It's time that we start using those skills and putting them back to work," said Tate.

While traveling to Africa, Tate crossed into a new battlefield. Some estimate nearly 100 elephants are killed by poachers every day. A rhino horn is worth more than gold.

Tate believed he had the solution for two problems. He founded VETPAW – Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife - and teamed up with Army medic Azad Ebrahimzadeh to make it work.

"Veterans make sense," said Ebrahimzadeh.

Ebrahimzadeh and Tate knew that park rangers in Africa are overwhelmed by work, and yet American veterans often feel overwhelmed by the exact opposite.

"They were a part of something bigger. They felt like they were contributing to something, that they were making a difference," said Ebrahimzadeh.

Post 9-11 veterans are using their skills to train anti-poaching rangers, increasing efficiency and skill set.

"That's the best decision I ever made," said Tate. "I mean, it was kind of like jumping off a cliff.

The group quickly grew, and Johnson joined as their first – and only - woman.

"You can ask any of these guys. I have earned my place on this team," she said. "I don't complain. I don't act like a prima donna. I sit here and I bust my butt."

The group made its first trip to Tanzania earlier this year.

They'll return again soon so they meet in Florida on land that resembles Africa. Tracking poachers requires speed on rough terrain.

Former Marine force reconnaissance and scout snipers with Six Maritime help them hone their shooting skills. They also run drills, taking down potentially violent poachers.

Six Maritime instructor Lynn Westover Jr. showed them how a drone can help track suspicious behavior from the air, even at night when work is most dangerous.

"Pick up and cover rough ground... the GPS is holding it within a roughly one meter square area," said Westover.

But tracking poachers is mostly done on the ground.

The work takes a trained eye – and a commitment – they already know well.

"It's just like serving in the military. You have that passion and heart for what you did," said Johnson. "It may not be a person that we're fighting for or remembering – it's animals that very well could go extinct."

Veterans wear symbols of both the friends they've lost and the lives they hope to save – never forgetting and never giving up.

Johnson empowers female rangers - who risk their own lives - finding purpose in her past by protecting a fragile future.

"I hope we make a big difference... and hopefully be able to fight this battle."

Since their work focuses in an area where families have a tough time feeding their children, VETPAW is also several efforts to improve daily live in Tanzania.

They support local orphanages and are planning to start an agricultural program linking veterans with PTSD with local farmers.

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