Meet former bomb disposal soldier Jacko
Today we shine the light on long-serving staff member Andrew ‘Jacko’ Jackson, a former Royal Engineers Bomb Disposal soldier who loves Liverpool Football Club, #ConnorsRig and the camaraderie at SafeLane.
Describe your life before SafeLane…
Sometimes it’s hard to remember life before SafeLane! I will have been with the company 14 years in September…that’s a pretty good anniversary.
But right before I joined, I was living and working in Amsterdam, which was a lot of fun – sometimes too much fun!
Prior to that I was in the Army for 9 years where I was lucky enough to spend time in Canada – I also served in the first Gulf War and did tours of Bosnia and Belize.
I did live munitions clearance in Iraq and interestingly, I was in the same troop as Chas Reid – who is now SafeLane’s Director of Marine projects. We both did post-conflict clearance in Iraq – as well as being part of the Armoured Engineers who went into battle.
Obviously, being in the bomb disposal unit is intense – so when I left, I went to Amsterdam to do some seasonal work and just have a laugh. I did some DJ-ing breakbeat music as part of sound system – and somehow ended up with a serious job managing a call centre.
How did you end up at SafeLane?
That’s a funny story actually – Chas Reid and I remained friends, and he began working for Safelane (it was called BACTEC back then) after he left the army. One day he had a job in Merseyside, so he thought he’d pop in and visit my mum!
She gave him my new number in Amsterdam, and he rang me and told me there was a job for me if ever I wanted to come back to the UK.
You could say the rest is history – after a year or so I decided to return to Britain, and I’ve been with SafeLane ever since!
During your 14-year career what have been some of the highlights?
After 18 months with SafeLane I became a Senior EOD Engineer, and I got to do one of the most interesting jobs ever, in France. We had a clearance job working with a French company to clear the site of the Battle of Hill 70 near Lens.
This was a battle that took place in 1917 so as you can imagine, we found a lot of interesting items – but we also found 27 unmarked war graves.
Obviously, as soon as we found the remains, we stopped working. I clearly remember the guy who came to unearth the remains, a Brit called Colin who was living in Belgium. He’d do the sort of stuff you see on CSI – dusting the bones, collecting insignia from the regiments and so on.
He was incredible. Where the remains were British or Allied, he’d do DNA testing to get the remains back to their families. The German soldiers were returned to the German authorities to do the same. We even found some Indian soldiers’ remains.
It was an incredibly fascinating and humbling 3 months.
And I guess, another highlight was working on clearance of a former ammunition depot at Bramley…it was one of the last jobs I worked on when I was in the army – and one of the first jobs I worked on when I joined SafeLane.
There were so many chemical munitions – and some extraordinary items to clear. You see, Bramley had been used since WWI and whenever the army found different munitions around the world, they’d bring them back to Bramley. I distinctly remember Japanese terracotta mines; I mean, you just don’t get taught about those at army EOD school!
What has been a big challenge for you during your time with the company?
Probably project managing clearance in Larkhill – we had a 15ha site to clear and we had everyone on site – from archaeologists to EOD guys. Then I had a sub-section working 6 miles away…it was just full on.
Now I’m in the office as an Operations Manager I guess the biggest challenge is juggling the right people and the right kit, getting it to the right place at the right time when we are flat out – but I love it when we’re busy.
What do you like best about life at SafeLane?
Without a shadow of a doubt it’s the camaraderie – I mean, the bants on site is high, as you’d expect – but the bants in the office are just as good! We all work hard, but we all get along so well too.
Also, I love reconnecting with guys from my military days – like I work with Neil McLeod now – and he was my first ever section commander in the army in 1989!
How are your team coping with life under lockdown at the moment?
I have to say I’m really proud of them all. I’ll just give one example – Malcolm and James Downes, who run our stores and look after all our kit, have been flat out servicing and mending and upgrading all our rigs and trucks.
Not only that, they’ve rearranged everything so the whole stores operation is now so much more efficient.
As a result of the hard work of them, and all my colleagues, I know that when we’re safe and able to do so, we will be 100% operationally ready for our clients.
Talking of rigs, you manage Connor’s Rig…
Yeah! Rig 15 is Connor’s Rig. So, it’s mainly operated by Phil Broomhall and Jaymie Hurst. Now, Phil and Jaymie are very aware of why we named the rig after Connor. And the thing is, when it’s on site, because we have Connor’s name and his nickname, Laughing Boy, on the side, it’s always a real talking point.
Jaymie and Phil literally get stopped by guys and girls on site wanting to know about Connor. So, his legacy with SafeLane is not just looking for bombs, but spreading the story of his life and his wonderful family all around the country.
The funny thing is, whilst we have plenty of other rigs we could use, Connor’s is always first out the gate. It’s our flagship rig, it’s new, it’s shiny, it looks good and its operators like to show it off. Better to have a nice shiny tracked vehicle on site than a shed on wheels!
So, who is Jacko when he’s not at work?
Oh – I am a HUGE Liverpool Football Club fan – and I am missing football right now. I also love holidays, especially in the US – I’ve been over there more than 50 times and have another trip planned for the autumn – depending on the coronavirus situation.
Other than that, I love my motorbike, I’ve got a Suzuki V Strom and I’m trying to set up a SafeLane biker gang! So far, I’ve got Adam, (CEO), Brian (Director UK Land) and James and Malcolm Downes on board…I’m looking for new members…!