Interview with George McKerrow


MAC 7 Training Service

What is your background and what brought you to the field of CBRNe/EOD?

I joined the British Army back in 1984 where served for 24 years. Whilst in the Army I was part of the Combat Engineers and I also took more specialized training to become a paratrooper and a bomb disposal officer.

Very early on when I joined the threat of a chemical or a nuclear attack was very high. The Cold War was still going on and I was stationed in Northern Germany in a little town called Hameln just south of Hannover for 6 years.

During that time, the threat level of what we then called NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical, now CBRN) was very high. We used to spend the majority of our time in NBC suits, because the threat felt so real at the time that you would spend around 6 or 7 hours a day in a suit and probably 3 hours of that day in gas masks because you had to train as if you would actually fight. The alert level was so high that you always had to be carrying your NBC equipment with you. When we would conduct military exercises known as “active edge” we would spend pretty much the majority of the time in what we call “dress state 4” and a lot of time in “4R” which was essentially full PPE with gas masks on. Our motto was “be on time and mask in nine,” as we used to practice putting on our masks within 9 seconds on the alarm sounding.

“The Height of the Cold war was still going on and I was stationed in for 6 years in Northern Germany, in a little town just south of hannover.”

During the First Gulf War the threat was again very high, but never really materialized. As time went on it was deemed that the threat of an attack from this type of threat wasn’t so high, and we didn’t have to carry our CBRN equipment with us all the time.

The first time I dealt with a suspect chemical substance was in Iraq back in 2004-2005. This was around the time of the WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction) threat that the Iraq military forces supposedly had within its arsenal of weaponry. I can say that we came across munitions which did not appear with regular ordnance markings. There were instances where mortar rounds had been painted over to disguise their original markings.

At one stage I remember having dealt with a munition involving a leaking chemical that we had been tasked to deal with after a Non-Government Organization (NGO) had tried to carry out a blow in place (BIP) task without first getting a positive ID on the munition. We picked up strong signals on our Chemical Aid Monitor (CAM) when conducting reconnaissance during night-time in Iraq. I conducted a leak seal and package (LS&P) of the suspect chemical munition and was then processed at a decontamination station at 2 a.m. in the middle of the desert, which was a memorable moment for me. This substance was later picked up by a specialist team from the Iraqi Survey Group (ISG) which was a Joint Military Task Force based in Baghdad responsible for removing and analyzing these types of threats. I believe that this was the time when we changed from calling it NBC to the now-used term CBRN. This later became CBRNe, and as a result money was invested to form more specialized units to deal with these threats.

“After the Cold war the situation quieted down and we didn’t have to do so much anymore, particularly when we were deployed in the Balkans area – Bosnia and Kosovo.”

I felt that I have done the full circle with regards to the NBC-CBRN-CBRNE threat, with it being a very high threat at the beginning of my military career, then becoming a much lower threat before coming to the forefront again during my last few years in the military.

I am a big believer in joint response in CBRNe. I think it is the responsibility of EOD teams to work closely with CBRN teams. We must conduct joint training exercises in order to be ready to deal with this threat. When we talk about responding to the “left side of the boom” when there is a threat from an Improvised Dispersal Device (IDD) or an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), then it has to be an EOD Technician who deals with rendering that switch as being safe. In my view there should be nobody that is not EOD trained in a CBRN unit that should be expected to deal with that device. I am a big advocate of keeping the “E” as part of CBRNE instead of having it in lower-case like you sometimes see in “CBRNe.” Who knows, maybe in the future it will become CBRE… Now that should get fingers wagging!

My last assignment in the military was as a UK-embedded officer working for the Joint Improvised Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) under the Pentagon in Washington D.C. My posting in the United States took place from 2006 to 2008. My mission was to develop a program called “Tactical Site Exploitation.” The focus of this program was to train “door-kickers” which were our fighting troops on the ground in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The focus was on the importance of gathering evidence and intelligence as a part of counter-insurgency warfare (COIN). As a result, we were able to hunt down the bomb-makers and sponsors and really attack the terrorist network.

When I retired from the military I continued to work for US companies as a private contractor, training and operating all over the world. More recently I spent time working in Northern Iraq clearing some of the villages ISIS had previously occupied. In these areas ISIS had deliberately left IEDs in buildings such as schools, hospitals, universities and police stations to kill or maim all those who would try to repopulate those areas. We know for a fact that chemical agents were used there in the past, so there was always a high threat that they would be used again.

Could you tell us about the company you work for?

After retiring I decided to settle down a bit, so I started my own company called MAC 7 Training which would be based in San Diego, California, where I now live. I was organizing my own training events before I was approached by a larger company called Inert Products LLC. who are the world’s largest manufacturer of Inert Ordnance, IEDs and weapons. I sold MAC 7 Training to Inert Products and I remained there as the Director for International Sales and Training Coordinator for MAC-7 and Inert Products.

One of the first projects that I worked on was to build CBRNE training devices to support realistic training scenarios for both Ordnance and IED-related training exercises.

I wanted to have the teams train on and be exposed to scenarios which are as realistic as possible. That’s why we built those devices and that’s why we added chemical warfare agent (CWA) simulants to these devices. The aim is to train and prepare for dealing with these types of threats so that you are best prepared for that situation before it happens.

In your opinion what will be the biggest focus in CBRNe/EOD in the next few years?

That’s the million dollars question right there!

We have seen several instances where chemical nerve agents have been used for targeted assassinations in both the United Kingdom and in Malaysia. We must think about where those agents that were used in those attacks came from. This type of attack is very effective, and it induces a real sense of alarm and fear among the general public.

In my opinion if you were to look at a country or a region that is under a lot of pressure and they don’t see many options available and have the ability to conduct a CBRNE-type attack then it might be Iran. I would say that Iran is the country that we should watch out for, particularly with their suspected involvement in the more recent bombing of the oil fields in Saudi Arabia within the last few weeks. Iran is suffering as a result of the heavy sanctions that have been imposed on it and history shows that desperate people often seek out desperate measures in desperate times.

Could you name your best NCT experience and tell us why?

There are a few NCT training events that I’ve been involved in, the first being in The Netherlands (NCT Europe 2018, Vught) and then the Philippines (NCT PRO 2018, Camp Rafael) and then another training event in Austria (NCT Europe 2019, Vienna). I think that at the two events in Europe where we had a lot of teams that were very well-equipped we could train at a much higher level. In the Philippines, it was a much more of a basic-level training. They really didn’t have the necessary equipment to conduct high-level training, but their enthusiasm for knowledge was second to none.

To be honest, l enjoy both teaching and learning as I conduct training and if everyone leaves better prepared then they were before then it’s a successful training event. In the Netherlands in Vught in 2018 we had a lot of teams from the customs, the military, the police and the fire service that were happy to work together and exchange information when carrying out the tasks. The training facilities were excellent, as we had aircraft shells, subway stations, large indoor and outdoor areas with buildings to use, and the industry brought in a lot of both new and battle-hardened equipment for the teams to utilize in there training scenarios.

I enjoy supporting all the NCT CBRNE training events.

“At all NCT events, we put on a good training event!”

Any last words George?

The NCT events are great events, and in my opinion the best NCT events are the ones that include training as a part of it.

Vendors get great feedback and fantastic photo opportunities as well as the opportunity for networking at the evening social events. I understand the other parts are great too, but being able to bring different teams from different backgrounds/countries to train together using equipment and training scenarios where they are up against realistic devices, that’s priceless. If you are interested in purchasing new equipment, then why not have an opportunity to test it out first. This is so much better than just viewing a product in a booth at a tradeshow. This is what people want.

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