By SANDY LOPEZ Las Vegas Review Journal October 13th, 2013
It is Friday night and Aaron Mauldin takes an aggressive stance as he looks at his audience with a stern face. He takes a few minutes to introduce his basic pistol class to his listeners and then announces that he expects 180 percent out of each and every one of his students.
He and another trainer discuss universal firearm safety rules for half an hour and then let their students move into the shooting range. Most students wear shirts or patches that proudly announce their affiliation with the Zombie Eradication Response Team, or Z.E.R.T.
“This is pretty much like Boy Scouts, but for adults,” said Mauldin, Z.E.R.T.’s founder and CEO. “The word zombie is used as a metaphor (for a disaster). Everyone has a different zombie. It could be a flood, an earthquake or a financial collapse.”
Mauldin said Z.E.R.T. uses the zombie apocalypse theme to bridge people from all walks of life and prepare them for human or natural disasters.
Mauldin, a former Marine, said he started the organization because there was a lot of misinformation about survival tactics. Mauldin said he worked as a protection specialist at two Fortune 500 companies for six years where he expanded his knowledge of security and safety skills.
“All of the trainers are former special operation guys and they have the ability to teach the average Joe,” Mauldin said.
On Z.E.R.T.’s website most of the trainers’ faces are blurred. Mauldin said this is because many of the trainers are active military members who do missions and need to stay discreet for safety reasons.
According to Ben Ponder, financial officer for Z.E.R.T., it took a year for the gun enthusiast to see Z.E.R.T. as a professional training organization. “The serious gun people were hesitant at first because of the zombie background,” Ponder said. “Once they figured out that there were Tier 1 Special Forces trainers teaching classes, they started seeing us in a serious light.”
Ponder said that members range from a grocery bagger at Vons to a nuclear engineer. “The word zombie is a $7 billion industry,” said Ben Ponder, financial officer for Z.E.R.T. “(Aaron) found that gimmick and was able to present it in a professional way.”
Z.E.R.T. started in Las Vegas in November 2011. Mauldin said that it has since grown to become a worldwide organization attracting members from Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom.
In Las Vegas alone, Mauldin says there are 600 members, with at least 240 members who actively participate.
Clare Madsen, a mother of two, joined Z.E.R.T. in 2012 after meeting members at the Las Vegas Zombie Run. Not only does Madsen enjoy attending social events and meeting new people, but also enjoys the real world training that is offered. “(Women) have a higher chance of being a victim, especially with small children,” Madsen said. “There may never be a real zombie apocalypse, but there’s a really good chance somebody will break into my house.”
Madsen admits that she was also lured by the membership package, which for a little less than $40 a year, members receive a patch, T-shirt, certificate and training discounts.
Z.E.R.T. members are divided by squadrons, which are represented by a capital letter or letters. In the United States there are three squadrons: X Squadron represents the West Coast, Y Squadron represents Central and Z Squadron represents the East Coast. In addition, XP is for the original first 100 members.
Mauldin’s goal is to build a global community of people that help one another through training and survival tactics. He specializes in 2½-hour classes that focus on two to three techniques, but occasionally Mauldin or another trainer will teach a more extensive eight-hour course.
Past clinics have included close-quarters combat techniques, medical training, pistol and rifle training and survival tactics. Individual clinic prices range from $75 to $100 a person. The clinics are aimed at working-class people and scheduled so that members can come to the trainings after work and be home before midnight. Mauldin said that each class has about 20 to 25 people.
Z.E.R.T. also has frequent social gatherings that involve watching zombie movies, going to Comic-Con and meeting up for dinner and drinks. Scott Celestino, one of the first 100 members, became involved with Z.E.R.T. in 2012. Celestino enjoys the community aspect of Z.E.R.T. “Training by far is second to none,” Celestino said. “Most civilians like myself aren’t drawn to all the military aspects. They’re more drawn to people who have a like mind and share a similar interest.”
Besides managing Z.E.R.T., Mauldin said he is set to star in a TV show on National Geographic that’s scheduled to air in the fall. The show will focus on preparing people to face their worst fears.
Mauldin has continued to expand his zombie following through his spring release of a Z.E.R.T. comic book, with more set to be out later this year. Mauldin is also working on an erotic zombie calendar scheduled to come out on Black Friday.
Overall, the organization is a mixture of gun-friendly people and zombie enthusiasts looking for a way to socialize while learning something new. “We have members from different professions. We have military members, police officers and people working in white collar or blue collar jobs,” Mauldin said. “This is the fight club of the zombie guys.”
For more information, visit zertnation.com.