Uncle Pierre Needs You

Join the legion?
Does the French Foreign Legion still exist today?

Yes it does.

But gone are the days of desert fortresses, sabres and camel convoys in the Sahara. Camels have been traded in for parachutes and 4WD vehicles and the headquarters has been moved from the sands of Sidi-bel-Abbes, Algeria, to Marsielles, France. Today, the Legion is thriving in southern France, as well as in its outposts of what's left of the French Empire.

What is new in the Legion today is the huge influence of all Anglo-Saxon volunteers. These English-speaking men are mostly from England and the old "white" colonies: Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. And have lately been drawn in large numbers into the Legion. But the Legion is still disappointed that there are too few Americans in their ranks. 20 People in 1992 and thus the smallest English-speaking group, in proportion to population of the world.

Why the "English Invasion"? It seems to be that Anglo-saxons are not really drawn to the Legion for "a new start", a place of refuge or a hiding place. It is more because of adventurousness, The "Mystery of the Legion", that noone who hasn't belonged to "The Brotherhood of Arms" can understand. That, and the "chance for some combat" which has been reduced in the western armies of today. This influence of "Englishmen" gives the Legion more than a little headache, it seems as if the Legion still is accustomising itself to the phenomenon. Some officers might not be too thrilled about the "invasion" - and it seems as if some of them are unsure how to handle these "barbarians." Most of the officers, however, takes this as a wonderful challenge. "Englishmen" are viewed as modern barbarians, who will be a great resource for the Legion if they are handled right.

The Legion has lately been sent out by France to "fix up" their international troublespots. And the, approximately, 8000 Legionnaires that have sworn to defend the interests of France is the most well trained, best equipped and without doubt the toughest unit that the French government has control over. And of course everyone is a volunteer, an important factor in a country where a vote must be held in the parlament, in order to send regular French units.

The most common Legionnaire is still put through the harshest discipline in any army in western countries. And within the lower ranks the salaries and personal freedom is strictly limited. But when the Legionnaire has proven himself and become a Corpral of Legionnaire, First Class - after 5 years. Then he will be trusted, respected and a nicely paid member of the Legion, given all the rights and privileges that will come along with the membership in one of the most exclusive mens-clubs in the world. This is probably the reason why 60% of the soliders that complete their five-year contract will re-join.

After that you arrive to a recruiting office in France, you will sign a contract stating that you are a volunteer for serving five years in the French Foreign Legion. Then, you will be sent to 1er R.E. - The headquarters of the Legion in Aubagne north of Marsielles. There you will be put through a thorough medical examination, and in the following three or four weeks you will be put to several examinations, IQ tests, ability tests, physical tryouts and security related interviews. Not only that, but you will be used as staff for washing dishes, clean floors, mow lawns, etc. These days, the Legion is picky on who will be accepted, three out of four applicants will not be chosen and will have to return back to their homeland, and may not reapply again within six months. You may only apply three times, you must be between 18 and 40 years of age. And just as in "The old Days", the Legion will not accept persons with a severe criminal record, or social misfits.

Those chosen will be given a few weeks to think through whether they want to stay in the Legion or return back home. If you should choose to stay, you will lose your identity, nationality, passport, etc. And therefore, during the first three years in service the Legionnaire cannot do anything a "normal" person would take for granted since they have no legal identity. You cannot open bank accounts, own or rent a car.

During the first two years, it is improbable that you will be given any leave from your unit. The barracks are cleaned three times a day, apart from the usual cleaning, dishing, cooking and sentry duties you will be assigned all through basic training. The people in the barracks are counted in the morning, and at lights-out at 10:00 PM. When the Legion has decided that you are suitable for training "Engage Volontaire", you will be issued your tailored uniform and equipment. This package is worth about US$ 2000, and contains everything that you will need during the five years.

All the Legionnaires-to-be are then sent to Castelnaudary inbetween Carcassonne and Toulouse, in south-western France. Castel, as called by the Legion, is the home town of 4em R.E. The school of the Legion, where they train their recruits, specialists, and officers. "Caserne Quartier Danjou" is about 5 kilometers outside of Castel, and in the city lies "Caserne Quartier Lepasset" - the former home of the Legion. Today, they are housed in the more modern "Caserne Quartier Danjou".

All training during the first four months, including orders, will be given in strictly French. During this time, it is expected of the recruits (who are not Francophonic) that they learn the language. You will be paired up with a french speaking ("Binome"), who will be your dictionary. By the end of the first week, the recruits will be split up into platoons and squads. They are then moved out to one of six "farms" that are part of 4em R.E. Every platoon has an officer (Lietuenant or Sergeant-Major) three sergeants and five corporals as instructors. Each one of these platoons are completely self-serving, and will be managed without involvement from 4em R.E. during the first month. Now, the recruit will be taught the basics in the military training. Taking apart and reassembling his weapon, physical training and conditioning.

At the end of each week the recruits will be marched with full load. The first week 10 kilometers. The second week 15 kilometers, third week 20 kilometers, and the fourth week 60 kilometers over two days. The recruit will now be returned to 4em R.E. - worn out from their 2-day march. And in a knightly ceremony they will be greeted by their Colonel at 4em R.E., and their company commander (Captain) in parade uniforms. During this symbolic night, the recruits will for the first time be able to wear their new "Képi Blanc", White Cap. And are welcomed into the Foreign Legion as real Legionnaires. They are told that as Legionnaires they are not alone in the world, and that they now are members of a very exclusive family. The ceremony will be concluded with all singing march chants around a large fire, with food and beverages a plenty.

During the second month, the Legionnaire will be exposed to the basics in close combat, objective courses (500 meters, 16 concrete objects, 5 minutes). Firearm practice and parade exercises. Weapons used by the Legionnaire include the 5.56mm Assault Rifle FA-MAS. The 7.5mm Machine-gun AA-52 the 9mm pistol MAC50, the 89mm Rocket launcher LRAC, and the 112mm Anti Tank weapon APILAS. Every Legionnaire must be proficient with these weapons. They must master taking apart, reassembling and of course firing with all of them.

The Legionnaires are also conditioned in marching with longer and longer distances every week (averaging 40km.) They must also complete the "Combatant's Course" - 8 kilometers loaded with 15 kg timed run. By the end of the second week, the training and constant activities will start to wear you out. And you will be sent to the Mountain-training facility in the French Pyrenees. This training is not meant to be physically exhaustive, but is more of a recreational period. After this episode, they will return to 4em R.E. and the training will continue at a more sophisticated level. Armor piercing weapons, explosives, crossing rivers using ropes, swimming with a full load, Atomic, Biological and Chemical warfare training, and patrolling.

In week 12, the Legionnaire must use everything he has learned in a 200 kilometer mountainous march, "Raid Marche", with full combat equipment during four days. You will be marched, paddle Zodiac rafts, board/unload Puma helicopters, patrol, combat, carry wounded etc.

During these 15 weeks of basic training, you should have your stamina in running improved with inbetween 7 and 12 kilometers, but you will be pushed harder. A nightly run of 25 kilometers with a 17-18 kilogram packing at a maximum of three hours. Two basic demands are also expected from the Legionnaire: Learn most of the marching songs of the Legion and do sentry duty for at least 192 hours (rotated in shifts of 2 on and 4 off.)

After that you have finished your basic training, you will be sent to the regiment that you chose, or the one that was selected for you. There, you will continue the training into your "speciality". The training in the Legion IS hard, but not brutal. There has been quite a few articles written about the "unneccesary brutality" in the Legion. These reports are often ficticious - today an officer will be imprisoned if they strike a Legionnaire.

Deserting the Legion is unacceptable by the Legion, and you will be regarded as a traitor of the "holy oath" you have taken to serve the Legion for five years. No one is forced to volunteer, but when you do, you are expected to fulfill your promises, as well as the Legion will be loyal to you. A deserter will be hunted and captured by the so called "Headhunters" - Military Police. Upon capture, a Legionnaire will be imprisoned in 1er R.E. and after a few months in work-camps, he will be thrown out of the Legion.

The training you will go through in the Legion is quite scientific; much of the physical training is dictated by doctors and professional trainers. The same goes for conditioning. There is a method behind the madness. These experts will also offer advice to the Legionnaire how he can get the most out of his training, and that's exactly what they do at 4em R.E. in Castel.

When a ready Legionnaire leaves 4em R.E. and joins his new regiment, in France or "Outre Mer". He will be paired up with an "older", more experienced Legionnaire as his new "Binome".

Recruiting Tips:

  • - Think through your decision THOROUGHLY before you sign up.
  • - Don't join if your life is bad right now. The Legion is not a promise to change your life to the better.
  • - Bring enough money for a return ticket home, in case you are rejected by the Legion before you are paid any salary.
  • - Get a safety deposit box for money and things in Paris or the city where you join for all the things you do not wish to bring along to Aubagne.
  • - Start working out/condition at least six months before you attempt to sign up. You will need any advantage you can. The physical demands are harsh. During the basic training, you will be "scored" for everything you do. The more points you rack up at the end, the more choices you can make as far as where you wish to go after basic training. Be sure you can pull off at least 100 situps, 50 pushups, climb a 7 meter rope with a 40 Kilogram backpack in ten seconds, and run/march LOTS - the Legion loves to run.
  • - Get to know as much French as you can before you go. Even if it is not necessary to know the language, you will experience an easier acclimatization. At least know some basic phrases.
  • - Take care of all medical issues before you leave. Medical issues can delay or make the application process harder.
  • - Tatoos on hands, face and neck are not allowed. Neither are you allowed to get tatoos using ink and needles, which a is common practice among recruits.
  • - Bring a load of cigarettes if you are a smoker. You will not be able to buy any in Aubagne as a recruit.
  • - Don't bring items or clothes you want to keep. Anything that you cannot bring (which is pretty much everything)
    into training will be donated to the red cross.

Recruiting Offices
Pour la région parisienne 94120 Fontenay-sous-Bois Fort de Nogent
Tèl : (1) 48 77 49 68.

59000 Lille La Citadelle
Tèl : 20 55 40 13.

13007 Marseille La Malmousque Chemin du Génie
Tèl : 91 31 85 10.

13400 Marseille Quartier Viénot
Tèl : 42 18 82 57.

76038 Rouen Cedex Rue du Colonel Trupel
Tèl : 35 70 68 78.

86000 Poitier Quartier Aboville
Tèl : 49 41 31 16.

64100 Bayonne 18, quai de Lesseps
Tèl : 59 50 14 84.

44000 Nantes Quartier Desgrées-du-Loup Rue Gambetta
Tèl : 40 74 39 32.

33000 Bordeaux 260, rue Pelleport
Tèl : 56 92 99 64.

57000 Metz Quartier De-Lattre-de-Tassigny
Tèl : 87 66 57 12.

69007 Lyon Caserne Sergent Blandan 37 bis, rue du Repos
Tèl : 78 58 40 21.

21000 Dijon Caserne Junoy 66, avenue du Drapeau
Tèl : 80 73 54 86.

06300 Nice Caserne Saint Jean d'Angely Rue des Diables Bleus
Tèl : 93 56 32 76.

67000 Strazbourg Quartier Lecourbe Rue d'Ostende
Tèl : 88 61 53 33.

66020 Perpignan Caserne Mangin 8, rue François Rabelais
Tèl : 68 35 05 38.

51000 Reims Quartier Colbert 32 bis, avenue de la Paix
Tèl : 26 88 42 50.

31000 Toulouse Caserne Pérignon Avenue Camille Pujol
Tèl : 61 54 21 95.

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