I admit it. I was wrong. Three years' service and a growing impatience at having yet to climb a single rung of the hierarchal ladder may just have seduced a morsel of dismissiveness out from the normally pristine cracks of my psyche. How often I had been forced to sit through yet another horror story from the Stage Caporal at Castel. One by one, scrawny pimple-faced power-trippers and bungling brutish buffoons alike would recount their memories of horrific conditions and sleep deprivation mixed with outrageously safety-endangering activities. Oh how grueling it was!! Oh how painful it was!! Oh how I truly merit my glistening new rank of "Corporal" for having merely survived!! I nodded blankly. I scoffed secretly. I rolled my eyes, all the while quietly saying to myself "Sure, how hard can it be?".
Oh my dear Lord JESUS!
I type this as I career towards Paris for whatever time I can squeeze from our lousy 36 hour free pass, awarded at the half-way point of this insanely sadistic "training" course. I have no voice, my throat being ravaged to beyond repair by the biting pre-sunrise cold of Bertrandou (the Legion's farm for all trainee Corporals and Sergeants). Not that I didn't bring a warm sleeping bag, changes of undergarments and a little gas cooker to combat any descending chills. Of course, having spent a grand total of seven hours in said sleeping bag in the last 6 days hasn't quite afforded the opportunity to reheat any slowly chilling extremities, nor put on clean socks or jocks to replace the soggy, sweaty slabs of cotton glued to my goosebump-covered skin. Simply put, you have no time. NO time. Not a single, solitary minute. If you need the toilet, hold it until the 1 hour or so of designated down-time you may or may not be awarded on a daily basis. If you need anything else, tough shit!
Night-time orienteering is a big hit with the commanding officers at Bertrandou, scattering checkpoints throughout the inhospitable thick brushwood encircling the outskirts of Carcassonne. So you can imagine the effect a combined total of 15 kilometers ran in the early hours of a sub-zero morning in full combat fatigues, sweating litres through socks, underwear and t-shirts without any time to change before the slowly rising sun announces the debut of the next day's schedule consisting of singing, push-ups and comatose classroom sessions might have on a person. First stop upon my arrival in Paris - a pharmacy. I just hope I manage to squeak out my problem to the assistant, although I'm sure they'll catch on quite quickly.
Departing with the voice over the past 4 weeks were several hundred layers of skin from my two bruised, battered and heavily blistered feet. The initial under-layer - exposed by a tumbling duvet of dried skin - doesn't even have the time to repair itself before another layer goes, then another, and another. Double-figure tours around the obstacle course, 10 km runs at breakneck speed (trying desperately to follow a perfectly rested, immaculately fed sergeant), as well as punishing trips down into a dauntingly steep valley and back up the other side to collect drinking water several times day have all played their part. I'm starting to think that a geologist might be more of an appropriate consultant than a chiropodist at this point, such is the depth of some of the gaping holes in the souls of my poor ol' toots. Metres of bandages and strapping tape have been devoured in ever-increasingly vain attempts to stem the decay (and more shall be purchased in the afore-mentioned pharmacy, too). I actually fully envisage leaving Castelnaudary in four weeks time hobbling on two ankle stumps, my feet having eventually been worn down to oblivion. Although I must admit, my Puma Lab IIs feel pretty divine right now, encasing my feet in deliciously stretchy, cushioned glorious goodness. It really is the little things.
On a more informative (and less self-pitying note), our particular trainee platoon comprises a modest 27 legionnaires hailing from all regiments of the Legion based in France. Having gelled quite quickly and - despite the rare but inevitable personality clash - stayed quite cohesive until now, one would hope that the spirits remain as high as possible throughout the 4 weeks that lie ahead. Unfortunately, the pace will do nothing if not quicken, the fatigue will increase as the respective fuses grow ever shorter, resulting in some unavoidable confrontations. I've tried to exhibit a chirpy outlook, never openly displaying any discontent in front of the COs. They really don't like that. So far, so good. We'll see with the rankings at the end, though.
Now when I say that my fellow sufferers hail from all France-based regiments of the Legion, I also include Castelnaudary in that list. You see, the Legion contains this (rather bizarre) program concerned with the accelerated promotion of young recruits. These young recruits , or "Fut-Futs" complete their 4 months of initial training like every other legionnaire, but instead of deploying to a combat regiment, they remain in Castel where they immediately embark on a 5 month preparation program for the Stage Caporal. That's right, here I am with over 3 years service, lining up beside whippersnappers without even a full 12 months under their belt. Granted, I should have been tackling this course a full year ago before a busted ankle laid me up for two months (and spawned this very blog), but the curious case of the fut-futs really takes the biscuit. Theoretically, they're fully prepared. All the answers are there. All the knowledge, tactics, tidbits, you name it. Theoretically. However, when I laid eyes on one such fut-fut (there are four in total in our platoon) utterly unable to lift the lid on the .50cal machine gun where the ammunition is inserted, the gasp of disgust was insuppressible. In less than a month, these fut-futs will be in charge of the instruction of future trainee legionnaires. Such a program can only be detrimental to the progress and improvement of Legion standards. And yet it exists, and will continue to do so. A lot of lip-biting has gone on this past month. I'll have to pace myself if I'm to avoid having my lips go the same way as my feet.
Right, rant over. I apologise for the rushed air this blog entry may carry. I felt obliged to update you all on my news, what with it being a month since my last post. However, energy is at critically low levels and I need to guard some in reserve for the many glasses of whiskey I shall unceremoniously fuck down my throat in a few hours' time. I wish you all more luck, happiness and enjoyment for the next 4 weeks than I could hope to encounter. Our next rendezvous is pencilled in for just after the end of all this nonsense. I honestly can't wait. No doubt there's a lot more to come from this Stage Caporal. Indeed, I've already accumulated a plethora of anecdotes that I just do not have the time to reproduce here. That's the great thing about the Legion though.
Never a dull moment….