Sunday, June 30

Regress (Part Deux)

True colours shall eventually be shown, or show themselves if the universal need is sufficiently pressing. And so it was with my lieutenant throughout the course of this past week. I may not smell entirely of roses myself (certainly after four days in the mountains) but my scent is a hell of a lot more appealing than that of this petty excuse for a C.O.

Let’s recap, shall we?

LT wanted me back early from my end-of-contract holidays to go traipsing around the mountains. I told him where to go, leaving me with the dreaded anticipation of some sort of confrontation.

Still waiting…….

However, after having arrived back to regiment on the Sunday night, I awoke Monday morning with the sobering news that I had one hour to prepare my gear before grabbing the next bus up to our regiment’s camp in the small alpine town of Valloire. It seemed that he would stop at nothing to stamp his authority on my already-frowning forehead. Obedience comes easy to me, if that can be interpreted in any way except self-deprecating, and so I packed my bags and loaded up for the six-hour road trip to “le chalet”. The first familiar face I encountered upon disembarkation was that of my captain.

Salut, O’Shea, ça va?” he exclaimed, greeting me with a hearty handshake and a pat on the shoulder.

“Ca va, Mon. Capitaine” I replied with an ironic smile.

“Listen” he continued, pulling me gently aside, “A departure time is a departure time, OK?”. The look in his eyes and his tone of voice was unmistakable, even he knew this was bullshit but at the same time he wasn’t about to undermine a lieutenant’s call in front of the corporal in question. I kept it short and professional.

“Oui, Mon. Capitaine”, and no more was said about it.

Next I sought out my LT to let him know I’d arrived. I must have surprised him somewhat, as he instinctively shook my hand before apparently immediately remembering his devout promise to play hard-ball with me, reverting to short, uninformative answers to my questions regarding the issuing of my rock-climbing gear and where to leave my bags. I decided to cut our reunion short and seek out the guys in my platoon. This childish petulant “tough love” was proving too much. Oh the laughs I got, stumbling into view with my backpack on my back and a less-than-impressed look on my face!! Well my mood soon lifted in the company of the lads, all half-slagging half-disbelieving that I was even summoned up to join them on this little mountain challenge.

The disbelief even spread to some of the NCOs, the reason being more than just disciplinary. It was a tactical matter.

You see, our platoon was split into two neat, symmetric squads of seven: one squad leader (sergeant) together with two 3-man teams, each headed up by a corporal team-leader. Enter me, becoming an 8th man on one team and introducing a head-scratchingly unnecessary disequilibrium to proceedings. It was already evident that the LT was shooting himself in the foot on this one. Fuck it – I decided to take a backseat and let the younger (actually, only-just-out-of-corporal-school) corporal take the reins in our team, while I played the order-executing grunt in the shadows. The irony was not lost on me.

Despite all my grumblings and the fall-out with my CO, I actually really enjoyed my time in the mountains. For me, it was one last opportunity to bid farewell to the slopes and peaks that made me the soldier I am today. Over the past four and a half years I’ve skied, tumbled, climbed, slid, crawled up and down these mountains countless times. This particular requiem took in night rappelling, marching non-stop uphill from 10pm until 4am, day-time rock climbing with full kit, backpack and weapon (the old forearms took a beating on that one), a 70 metre day-time abseiling exercise, more climbing. The weather was fantastic, the pace not too hectic, the craic with the lads ninety as always, I was happy to be there. It was the principle of having been dragged up there for no other reason than to “show me who’s boss” (even at the expense of tactical rational) however that grinded my gears. Still, the LT was the one constantly coming out with egg on his face, in one instance misinterpreting a training scenario given by the instructors leading to him sending men into a heavily mined zone without preliminary detection.

My energy to justify my opposition generally waned as I realized any future discourse whatsoever between us was no more than a crazy fantasy. Upon our return to base on Thursday I decided to go all out in search of some sort of resolution to the juvenile tension between us. Despite having only returned from a 4-week vacation, I still had three days left to take before my contract’s up. What better time to put-in for my dates and provoke some sort of reaction than now, fresh from a dispute over …….. holidays!! I entered the office and unflinchingly stated the reason of my visit.

“What days are you looking for?” he asked reluctantly.

I gave my dates. He replied that due to the impending change of captains at the company, he’d have to wait until the new head honcho was in place before requesting the days on my behalf. That was it. No discussion. No dressing down from my LT over a perceived breach of discipline, failure to execute orders, however you’d like to word it.

I left the office, closed the door behind me and, for the first time, fully accepted the departure of the final tiny morsel of respect lingering within. Had he yelled my ears red, formally sanctioned a punishment for me, or at least told me that despite my impending exit I still had a contract and a hierarchy to respect, I may have bitten my tongue and said “Fair fucks, kid’s got balls”. Instead I was left ruing his lack of leadership and grateful that my guys were only redeploying to French Guiana this September, not Mali or Afghanistan. Whatever anyone says, graduating directly from officer school with the rank of captain a matter of crossed-out calendar days away does not make for a good leader. It seems I’m getting out at the right time.

Whether he decides to sit on my holiday request until the last moment (like the last time) or not is irrelevant. My stance is simple: I’ve three days left and I’ll be taking them on the specific days I’ve demanded, regardless of whether they’ve been authorized or not. The LT will then have to decide together with the new captain whether to justify my absence by using my 3 remaining holidays or whether to mark me as AWOL less than 7 days before I’m due to arrive at HQ for my final administrative hoop-jumping routine. My obedience has its breaking point. This particular lieutenant’s ineptitude, it would seem, does not.

5 weeks, tick tock………….


  1. In my boring Swedish office i never get to do any night rappels ;-(
    Hang in there !!!!

  2. What I appreciate most about your blog is that the more I read of It, the more encouraged I am to join. This is because you successfully knock the romance right out of the Legion life with your grounded, non-dramatised account of day to day life, yet I am still not dissuaded to try to join. Thanks mate.


  3. Hi there from an ancien from the 80's before we had an engineer regiment. I Did my best time with the 1*er REC in Orange. Service in Beirut and Tchad and Guyana. Friendly in Senegal. Could have done with a some engineers, our technique involved checks

  4. Hi there from an ancien from the 80's before we had an engineer regiment. I Did my best time with the 1*er REC in Orange. Service in Beirut and Tchad and Guyana. Friendly in Senegal. Could have done with a some engineers, our technique involved checks

  5. Would like to know other ex légion, find problem in gaining access to UK anciens!?

  6. Would like to know other ex légion, find problem in gaining access to UK anciens!?