Wednesday, April 11

Cast Adrift

No man is an island entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

Naivety, it seems, is my preferred crux. It pumps the essence of Legion existence through my twisted, engorged veins perennially throbbing from the eleventh hour u-turns that have come to define this famous institution and all she holds dear. Granted, disillusionment is a feisty and relentless foe to the military hierarchy, sabotaging endless battles to retain soldier morale, fought heroically by our superiors with increasingly outrageous and unrealizable promises. Some wars, I guess, are waged dirtier than others.

Such was the gaseous atmosphere of conflict lingering throughout our company these past two days, as hopes, dreams, promises and, occasionally, contracts mercilessly evaporated, forming thin, toxic clouds transforming the previous week's sunshine in to an obscure, almost macabre omen for even the most meticulously planned, glitteringly imagined, now catastrophically disfigured careers. If God existed, and one wanted to make him laugh…..or something to that effect.

Our annual appraisals - or "Revue d'Effectifs" - are rather like a ceremonial game of Chinese Whispers; a confused, physics-defying set of Russian dolls where the small grows ever bigger until we eventually arrive at the end of the line - a gigantic, inevitable nothing. A private discussion with one's platoon leader swells to absorb the company captain, who in turn reels in the regimental top dog - the colonel. Different doors to increasingly more important offices swing open, swing shut, the drafty progression inflating gleaming Hindenberg smiles that plough through young legionnaires' minds, whetting the appetite for long and prosperous careers in the world's most elite fighting force. The reality is a far cry from the dreamy imaginings flinging candy floss nooses around the necks of desperate young men throughout the world come to sign away their lives for a decent wage, European papers, or the odd shot at glorious redemption. How little they know. How little the puppeteers care. How little it really matters in the grand scheme of things.

Dwindling funds are resulting in less off-site training and - crucially - less overseas missions. Furthermore, troop numbers in the French Army (of which - let's not forget - the Legion is 100% an integrated part) are found in excess of budgetary capabilities. The cull is in full swing, and recruitment to the Legion is tougher than ever before. The current emphasis is on a careful, oftentimes incomprehensible selection process aimed at identifying long-term prospects; men ready to give 15 to life for the Legion's flame and, by extension, the desired steadying of the French Army personnel records. Trying to reduce the admission of eventual deserters while simultaneously encouraging those in the twilight period of their first (mandatory) 5-year contract to sign-on is a tricky business. Hence the discontent felt by certain soldiers upon exiting these appraisals, where a year earlier they'd been promised certain training courses, embarkment on specialist wings, or career progressions, only to now discover that said training course is no longer running, or said speciality has no more room to accommodate new additions, or how that career progression will have to wait another year. 

Morale hasn't been this low since I've been here, and my objectivity can be validated through my complete removal from the unfolding dog-eat-dog race for survival and (maybe) some semblance of prosperity in today's military world. I passed before the colonel as fully aware of my intentions and convictions to serve out my 5 year contract before moving on as he was. My 4th such "review" in little under as many years, I encountered no opposition, no thinly veiled contempt, no waxed-up persuasive techniques. Just the odd curious question concerning my plans after life in the legion before I was calmly, neutrally told I could go. Faced with scandalous revocations bestowed on my comrades, I can't help but feel my empathy diluted by relief at the straightforwardness of my own situation. In the end, it's your own reflection staring down from the top of the food chain. 

"Chacun sa merde", if you will.

Nobody comes to the Legion to serve France and her proud military traditions, her people, her part in global conflicts. They come to serve their own selfish needs. It really can't be explained any simpler than that. Any sense of the collective good is nothing more than a byproduct, a fortunate ricochet from their heat-seeking egos repelled by insurmountable blockades to their toy-soldier fantasies. In war, as Hemingway might well have told you, every man essentially dies alone. For the new waves of legionnaires arriving in to despondently static combat companies, theirs is a slow, excruciating, tantalizing, spirit raising, spirit crushing one, administered by an awesomely hubristic behemoth sporting five gold bars on each shoulder. In terms of career aspirations, they may all die alone. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that they all happen to die at the same time.

Aux morts……


  1. "Chacun sa merde"...the CDC didn't really say THAT to you, did he?

    The old one, in my last revue effectif, asked if I'd stay if he gave me $1 million USD. :D The new one didn't even know who the frak I was basically, since he had just gotten to 2REG 3 months previously. So when I did my last revue for FDC, the chat was quite short.

    At least you stayed until until the end of 5 years.


  2. Hey man, nice post, very well wrote (even a bit to much for my self taught english hehe).

  3. glad I read it before I bought my ticket

  4. Well' at least I'm "staying" until the end of the 5, still little over a year to go. I remember you telling me the USD$1,000,000 story alright. Yep, the new guy's a bit removed.

    Cheers to "Dude", appreciate the comment man!

    Richie, the Legion is still an extremely challenging environment, and one that'll provide you with life-long memories. I don't MEAN to discourage, but yeah, action's at n all-time low these days.

  5. So how hard would you say getting accepted into the Legion is these days? Assuming that one would be physically fit and speak passable french?

  6. "world's most elite fighting force."

    Is that really the opinion that pervades in there?

  7. That phrase "world's most elite fighting force" is a generic example of the persuasive language officers might use to drag a signature out of an undecided legionnaire.

    As for recruitment, I honestly can't say as the only time I underwent the process was almost 4 years ago. Not being smart, but it REALLY is a lottery back there in Aubagne. Obviously, fitness and general medical soundness are key, but French is not at all necessary (although a willingness to progress in it is).

  8. So it seems the only countries who are actively increasing their armies are China and N.Korea. Well, maybe a few more but it looks like all the bigger world powers are downsizing... makes me wonder wtf is up with that?

    Just glad that you're still doing okay. Still awaiting word of arrival of pkg to you months ago. Please tell me it arrived unscathed. Huh, huh? Did it?

  9. Aw K, I'm so sorry, no trace as of yet (it should've either been here by now or made its way back to you........). Not to worry, you can't believe how touched I am by you thinking' of me :-) I sincerely hope all is well in life with you!

  10. Mate, just a friendly note. Watch the tone of your posts. Would not want to be accused of "mauvais esprit" or worse being an "intellectual de gauche".
    During revue in Djibouti the OC asked me if I was gonna sign on after 5 and I said I wanted to be a Geologist and planned to go to uni and then work out bush. He laughed and said "Oh so you like rocks! Not enough rocks for you here then?". Ten minutes later I was outside en "Quartier Consigne" moving rocks from one place to the other in the midday sun. The Sgt de Semaine said I had rocks in the head and needed to "remis les idees en place".
    BTW, what the fnck has happened to Caserne Lappasset? I saw recent photos and it looks like they tore the old batiments down and pimped it up with street art and poofter architecture.

  11. Hey mate, well the "intellectual de gauche" label is a tad too late, but I get ye re: mauvais esprit. As I've said before, the blog is reactionary, instantaneous. Leave it simmer for 20 years and the overall tone will inevitably stagger towards one of fond nostalgia heavily influenced by relief to be out in one piece. In the same Revue d'Effectifs, the Capitaine heading up the HR dept. asked what I wanted to do on the outside. I said a degree in journalism & French. He asked if I was accumulating material for a book or what? (gulp). Bottom line, like someone bitching about a best mate who was late to collect them from the airport, my rants spew forth, cool and retreat into history. The spirit's good, but then the good times rarely make for good reading. I'm also only realizing through numerous e-mails and FB messages how impossible it is to convey the "reality" to ANYONE not in or out the other side. It won't stop me trying though.

  12. Cheers Mate, you are spot on. Not that promotion or courses are your priority now. There's always one Sous Off that finds an excuse in your last year to do everything they can to make you "taille la route" cos they don't like they way you butter your baguette. Don't give em ammo and keep the blogs coming.

  13. Moving rocks for no reason in the midday-sun :-(
    I better hang on to my boring swedish desk-job.....


  14. ha moving rocks haha for saying you wanted to be a geologist haha funny from my side ;) i wonder what he would have got you to do if you said you wanted to be a ----------->> astronaut haha i could only imagine :L

  15. Keep it coming just as it is...great reading...