Saturday, August 24

Overstaying Welcomes


I’d never been so happy to enter a French Foreign Legion base. Typical emotions encountered upon crossing the metal gates of any one of the Legion regiments can range from dread to disillusionment and no further. Joy? Now that was a new one. The contrast between this, my final week in the Legion, and my first traversing of the security barrier of the headquarters of La Légion Étrangère was incalculable. Then, hand trembling, watching my passport being torn from my humid grip, not knowing what would happen next. Now, strolling out past the security gate with a casual nod to the corporal chef on duty, not……..knowing what would happen next either, actually.

It’s been exactly two weeks since I left the Legion, and only now have I plucked up the courage to write this, my final blog. The medals have been packed away, the parting photos held briefly on the iPhone for a few nostalgic glances before being committed to the annals of hard-drive history. Here I sit in my new house in Dublin, anxious beyond words to advance to the next chapter of my life but incapable of doing so, until this one has been properly, officially closed.

That last week at Aubagne, the headquarters of the French Foreign Legion, was one of the most surreal of the past five years. And that’s saying something. I had arrived with a Moldovan colleague, with whom I’d begun my adventure in Aubagne back in 2008. Once back at HQ, we encountered two more friends from basic training who had each embarked on different journeys over the course of their contracts. Four, in total. Four, from an original forty-six. Granted, three guys had left through the front gates a week earlier, which brought the total number of 5-and-out to seven. Seven who completed our contracts and moved on. About eight or so raised their hands to leave before the end of basic training. Following on from that, and by our own more-or-less accurate calculations, another twelve or so had deserted over the course of the five years. That leaves more than half of our co-trainees having signed on to continue their careers.

The atmosphere amongst the departing was one of calm and light-heartedness, with a grand total of eighteen soldiers wrapping up careers of varying lengths, the youngest of course being ourselves, clocking out at five, the oldest being an Adjudant Chef who managed to rack up a staggering 35 years of service. Respect was maintained among the ranks but with a far less formal air. Handshakes were heartier, jokes more honestly laughed at, everyone buzzing with excitement at closing the book on their legion stories. The week was spent sauntering from office to office, confirming our decisions, our personal details, our future plans, our addresses abroad to forward mail to, and so on.

I’m sorry, but fuck this!

All these banal details, bland, lifeless descriptions, this isn’t how it was when I first started this blog. There was more life to my writing, more self-indulgence in the images and pictures painted by my oftentimes-convoluted words and phrases. And to be honest, I miss that. I miss being submerged in the Legion, not knowing day from night, forward from back, down from up. Paddling uncertainly through a murky abyss, a crushing yet strangely comforting pressure enveloping me from all sides. It was peaceful down there, in its own chaotic way. The sharks would bump but never bite, the electric eels slither slimily through legs and around necks, toying and teasing without ever delivering that fatal shock. It was a weird sort of rush, to delude oneself into thinking it was dangerous for the sole purpose of excitement and adrenaline, only to unwaveringly recognize the security it provided, those deep, dark murky waters of the abyss, where every rock peppering the ocean floor was painted a brilliant white, all bundled together to spell “Honneur et Fidelité”.

Two weeks ago, I broke the surface and crawled through white-crest waves crashing down around me, relentlessly calling me back in to the ocean, sweeping my hands out from under me, rolling backwards and pulling desperately at me. I made it to dry land, peeled off my wetsuit hoping for a long-overdue chance to stretch and breathe. Instead I was met with a rush of cold, a goose-pimpling chill to replace the envelope of cosy deep-sea pressure. Joining the French Foreign Legion was the hardest thing I had ever done, until it came time to leave.

Not that I was ever tempted to stay. Five is five, no more no less, that’s what I said because that’s what I meant. That certainty, however, doesn’t cushion the blow as that cold rush of air hits your bare skin and you realize “I’m out!”. I’m out, on the outside, the gates clanked shut behind me, resonating in defiance at another soul lost, another man down, another Képi shoved unceremoniously into the back of a dusty wardrobe in some rented flat in some far-away city, far from the Legion, far from the sea.

Make no mistake: these past five years have been the most incredible, illuminating, heart-soaring and soul crushing, intensely beautiful, boring and bone-shuddering of my entire life. Every second, every minute, every hour, day, month and year of my service morphed into one single entity the moment I crossed those iron gates for the very last time. I have loved every second, minute, hour, day, month and year, because I have loved my time as a legionnaire so profoundly, so completely, and with more pride than one can imagine. I’ve met some of the most remarkable people this planet has to offer, not only because of what they did before joining the Legion, but because of having served therein. It is a unique and exclusive brotherhood, and in spite of my differences with many of them, brothers they shall forever remain.

This blog has been an amazing adventure, and through it I’ve grown immensely as a human being, as a soldier, a writer and a general GC (Kiwis, take note). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed corresponding with the numerous messages and comments directed my way. Never seen as a crutch in which to embellish my oftentimes mundane exploits, I’ve found writing this blog to have been more like a strong cupped hand beneath the sole of my boot, pushing me upward to a superior vantage point, my sole responsibility to holler down to you, the reader, calling out everything I see from across the great high wall that encircles this magnificent institution. I hope I have served you all as well as I have the nation of France, her people, and of course my fellow brothers-in-arms.

The next chapter of my life lies as yet unwritten, as shall this blog from this point onwards and forever more. I would like to thank every single person who has laid eyes on my words from the very bottom of my heart. It has been quite a ride.

Bon courage, et rappelez-vous tous:

Légionnaire un jour, Légionnaire toujours.

Dermot

30 comments:

  1. Bon Chance Dermot et Merci

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  2. Good luck with your civil life.
    I have enjoyed your blogging since day one, and will feel an emtpyness without it.

    Cheers

    Paul

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  3. Thanks for your great blog. Will miss the updates and have read your musings with great interest. Would love to hear how civilian life treats you into the future sometime so maybe keep the page up!

    Go n-éirí leat i do shaol amach romhat.

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  4. Good Luck Dermot, Hope you write that book in the future about the Legion.

    Slán go fóill

    Mike.

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  5. Happy to see this update to your blog! It's been exciting to follow your FFL activities and experiences Mr. O'Shea.
    I look forward to reading about how your Legion experiences relate to your 'new' life as a civilian homeowner in Dublin.
    It's not only the content of the blog that is exciting and pleasure to read, the style and way it's written is also superb. WTG!
    Also good to see your recent forum posting at cervens.

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  6. Good luck! I've enjoyed your writing a lot over the last few years. It would be great if you started another blog about.... I dunno, life in general? Many other people do, and you have a turn of phrase that far surpasses theirs. In any case, best of luck.

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  7. Thanks so much for all the fantastic comments. It really means a lot, guys! There might be another blog in the future, I'll need to think on it. For the time being, just stay safe and I wish you all the very best of luck in whatever future endeavours you have lined up!

    Dermot

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  8. Sad to see you finish your writing . Found you as I recovered in hospital . I'm Irish also for many years in US . Different adventure . Hope you write again , don't give it up , you have a great style . There at least a couple of books in you . Best of luck with your future at study and in our great city of Dublin . Hope you thrive in Ireland but I think you'll succeed anywhere now . Merci et Bon chance .

    Ps , if you would care to answer , do they have a finishing ceremony ? Thanks .

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  9. Re: Finishing ceremony, a Lt. Colonel handed us our certificate in the museum before heading outside to have our group photo taken. Nothing too formal, but poignant all the same.

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  10. Merci pour les lectures intéressantes; j'ai suivi ton blog depuis un certain temps, et j'ai trouvé tes histoires fascinantes. Mon expérience avec le LÉ se limite au stage CEFE en temps que Canadien, et cela bien avant que tu ne joignes les rangs de la Légion.
    Bonne chance dans tes projets; ne regarde pas en arrière, mais n'oublie pas d'ou tu viens.

    Jim

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  11. Merci bien, Jim, c'est gentil! Courage a toi aussi!

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  12. you should publish your blog as a book. compulsory reading for me. helped me get through the graveyard shift on more than one occasion

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  13. Mr O'Shea,
    Thank you very much for your blog. It is not only the subject matter which makes it so interesting to read, your extrodinary writing style captivates a reader. In addition to your physical accomplishments during your FFL Service, your mental capacity to "sculpt" or shape thoughts using the English language is truly superb.
    Your reflections on your most honorable Service as you pursue civlian life in one of Europe's coolest (best) cities
    would also be worth reading.
    Quite simply Sir, you ROCK! WTG! All The Best!

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  14. I feel like I am losing a friend.....

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  15. I'm glad to read you again. Thanks for this post. Best for you Buddy! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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  16. Wow, what a ride. Unfortunately, I discovered your blog late, but it's easily the best blog I have ever read. I was in the US Navy and the experiences that you recount are similar enough to be relatable but different enough to be fascinating!

    Thanks for taking us all along on your journey!
    TJ

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  17. Thank you, Thomas! I'm glad you got something out of it!

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  18. Well done and good luck on your future mate!
    I myself am looking to make the trip to France and knock on the Legions door. Are there many Irish folk in the legion these days?

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  19. There are still one or two in my old reg, I'd imagine a few in the 2REP and maybe a few others scattered throughout. But not many, not like 15-20 years ago!

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  20. Good luck for the future pal! I am looking to join the legion, but have no military experience, but the Brit army just doesnt interest me at all, are they likely to say get the feck outta my office and join the brits?

    From a fella north of the border.

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  21. Hi just found you, after the comments above - cant wait to read more. Son just joined up yesterday so would very much like to know what is in store for him! Good luck in your 'new life'!

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  22. I like the approach you took with this topic. It is not every day that you find a subject so to the point and enlightening.

    Overstay in the USA

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  23. Nice post! I wrote a similar type of paper about diversity and online learning that you or your readers might find helpful..
    IT careers for bankers

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  24. It seems like you made a really big jump here. Being a part of the legion would be a great honor. Thanks for your service!

    https://www.tlccu.org/accounts-checking.htm

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  25. Hey,

    I've just finished reading your blog and would honestly like to thank you for writing it in the first place.

    This is, of course, only one small Thank You from someone somewhere on the internet, but your blog entries provided insight into a life that most of us won't ever get to live and reading it was really worth it.

    I hope your life after leaving the legion continues to go into the direction you wish to take it.



    Best of Luck from someone somewhere out there.

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  26. Youve done something most of us can only fantasize about .. I have no doubt you were an overall Good Cunt .. Good to see some common kiwi terms in the legion apart from the never ending sheep jokes there must be . I enjoyed reading your blog . Very succint and refreshing . All the best for your future endeavours . I urge to put this in a book coz I would definetly add to my library . "Onward "

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  27. Hi mate! Im going to Aubagne in a couple of days. lets say I get in. How long does all time take with the tests and waiting in Aubagne? If I pass and all how long will I be in Aubagne until I get to Castel you recon? How long did you stay? Thanks in advance/ Thomas

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