The Generation Gap - mankind's final, insurmountable frontier. Everybody thinks they know it all. Those gone before us are outmoded and cranky has-beens spewing forth nonsense wrung out like a crusty sponge of sanity expiring its final drops. Those to follow are nothing more than insolent pretenders to the throne, disrespecting the experience and authority of their elders.
I swore I'd never fall foul. I swore that the infinite stores of knowledge and sarcastic wit would trump all before me, proving wrong those who insisted I too would one day understand. Understand the frustration, the resignation, or rather the superior calm accompanying such hard won wisdom, held loftily over the emerging spawn of the future Légion Étrangère.
Yet fall foul I did. The sheer stress of dealing with impudent little know-it-all pups is proving my toughest challenge yet. Now I'd be the first to hold my hands up in recognition of my physical shortcomings in the face of the more intimidatingly muscular recruits turning up at our regiment these days. But as one astute (if slightly irritating) fellow corporal remarked;
"Guys come here thinking it's the fuckin' Olympics! There's a lot more to being a soldier than being the fittest man on earth!!"
He had a point. Of course fitness plays a key part in the life of a Legionnaire, but doing push-ups hardly contributes to a soldier's knowledge of weapons, basic tactics, field commands, and other brain-engaging activities. Too often too recently have we been on the receiving end of bulky, ripped, throbbing-vein-sporting trolls arriving at regiment unable to understand even the most basic of commands. Far from being concerned by this, the grunts in question simply display an explicit nonchalance that almost takes one's breath away. If they weren't so inherently moronic, one might actually suspect a thinly veiled plot to win impromptu physical exercise sessions throughout the day, thereby eating in to valuable working hours. Substantiated or not, such suspicions have forced our hand and that oldest of Legion traditions comes galloping to the rescue, offering a fabulous form of rehabilitation in the ways of martial discipline - corvée!
Mops and brooms have never been more plentiful (or in such continual usage) so long as I can remember. Nowadays, ordering legionnaires to do push-ups (no matter how receptive they might be to the idea) is officially against the rules. (I know, I know)! So scrubbing the shit out of toilets seems the only logical rerouting option. My new Ukrainian roommate learned all about that the morning he tried to pull the wool over my eyes. Designated to clean the toilets and showers, I only realized that he hadn't reported back at the end of his duties after having departed towards the toilets for my morning business and encountering a still-drying tiled floor. I called him up, merely to calmly (mercifully, if you will) explain the important task of "rendre compte" (or "reporting in") after finishing morning chores. My little speech delivered, I then proceeded to a random stall to enjoy some quiet time. Upon opening the door however, the grizzly gnarly brown-speckled sight that greeted my eyes turned me on my heels and back screaming the name of the little fucker responsible.
"You said you cleaned the toilets!"
"Er, yes Corporal.."
"Well what the fuck do ya call this then???" (showing the stall in question).
"SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!!!"
Opening the other five stalls, I encountered a similarly disastrous sight, my slight-framed comrade having done nothing more than pass a soaking wet mop along the floor.
Naturally I made him start all over again. And low and behold the second time round it was gleaming - toilets, urinals, mirrors, the lot. Rather fortuitously for me (and less so for the toe-rag-in-question), I only then remembered that he had also been charged with cleaning the showers as well. I marched determinedly - expectantly even - towards the door. It swung open. The incoming draft of air was just strong enough to send the crusty pair of underwear tumbling off the ledge above the first shower door. I exhaled profoundly, trying to calm my rising blood pressure. It was almost time for morning assembly. I promised to revisit the "problem" later in the day.
And so, as the clock struck 18:00, I apprehended the culprit and issued the instructions.
Bucket - check! Scrubbing brush - check! Sponge (with coarse green side for deep-scrubbing - check! Rubber gloves - check!
There are five shower stalls, and my little janitorial prodigy was set to work, stall-by-stall, tile-by-yellow-stained-tile, door, floor, ceiling, the works. After each stall, I demanded a "compte-rendu" upon which I thoroughly inspected the stall in question before authorizing progression to the next one. By the end (I let him off at around 21:00) the showers were gleaming! All the guys in the platoon were delighted with the results, taking especial pleasure in their next bathing session. My student has since become incredibly more diligent in his cleaning duties since the episode and overall, I consider it a lesson well learned.
Unfortunately, it doesn't change the fact that the new waves of legionnaires arriving at regiment are overwhelmingly inept and rather glaringly unsuited for a military lifestyle. I'm just relieved that they've arrived AFTER the return from Afghanistan. Sure, a deployment to French Guyana sits restless on the horizon two weeks from now, but an non-combat overseas mission of that nature will only provide further controlled hardships to help align the newbies with the demands of legion life. If it was another tour of Afghanistan awaiting us, the pressure would be ten times what it has been to-date. I honestly never thought I'd be actively trying to break soldiers' moral to see their reaction. But the freeloaders and apathetic drivel flooding in to our ranks these days has demanded a reaction. Soon enough I hope to see some of these guys reach breaking point, and how they pick themselves up - either by hopping the fence or mending and strengthening their ways - will determine just how enjoyable their time in the Legion will be.
Patience is wearing thin.