French Foreign Legion - Experiences/Advice

Hello all,

Thanks again for the advice posted here, I've had a further look into the FFL and have some Qs :

1) What is the culture like amongst legionnaires? I know this may be impossible to answer amongst such a large unit of c. 8000 men from across the world, but I'd be interested to hear what peoples experience is?
What do you mean by "culture"? And the Legion is currently approximately 9,600 strong as I recall.

Legion junior ranks come from an extremely wide cross-section of diverse cultures, ethnicities, etc. etc. During basic training a certain culture is drummed in, that it doesn't matter who you were before, where you came from, what your social and educational background was, what food you ate, what god you prayed to and what language you spoke. Everyone is treated the same. You speak French and you eat, breathe, shit, run and jump Legion. NOW !!

2) What type of operations would you say are typical for the FFL? Are they often used as shock troops for raiding style operations? Are they more of the line infantry role? I know there's an airborne battalion as well as infantry battalions too, does it depend on which battalions you're sent to?
All the operational FFL units are intregrated into deployable French Army Brigades or Overseas Garrisons. They all undertake almost exacty the same missions as their Regular French Army counterparts in those formations. Current (June 2022) Foreign Legion Units:

The base units ("le socle") - non-deployable, France based:
1 Regiment Etranger, (Aubagne) :- known as the "mother house", the Legion's depot unit.
Groupement Recruitement Legion Etrangere, (Paris) :- Responsible for running recruiting.
4 Regiment Etranger, (Castelnaudary): - Training regiment (basic, NCO cadre and technical specialists)

Operational units - deployable, France based:
1 Regiment Etranger de Cavalerie, (Carpiagne):- Light Armour /Recce, part of 6 Light Armoured Brigade
1 Regiment Etranger de Genie, (Laudun):- Combat Engineers, part of 6 Light Armoured Brigade
2 Regiment Etranger d'Infanterie (Nimes):- Mechanised Infantry, part of 6 Light Armoured Brigade
13 Demi-Brigade Legion Etrangere (La Cavalerie):- Mechanised Infantry, part of 6 Light Armoured Brigade
2 Regiment Etranger de Genie (Saint Christol):- Combat Engineers, part of 27 Mountain Infantry Brigade
2 Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes (Calvi, Corsica):- Airborne Infantry, part of 11 Parachute Brigade

Operational units - overseas garrrison based, locally deployable:
3 Regiment Etranger d'Infanterie (French Guyana):- Light infantry, jungle specialisation.
Detachment Legion Etrangere a Mayotte (Indian Ocean):- Light infantry, amphibious specialisation.

3) As some have mentioned re education, yes I am fairly well educated, without getting too personal I studied classical music at a conservatoire, though I'm not from a posh background. I'm from a working class family and was 'gifted' at music from a young age which allowed me to study it at a high level. Would this put me out of sync with the rest of the guys I would potentially be serving with? I tend to be able to get on with most people tbh, and if anything I find the middle classes to be the group I least get on with.
Keep your head down and you should be alright.

As for classical music training, believe it or not, this is something that might fast-track you in. The Legion prides itself for its band which is acknowledged and sought after world-wide. Once they find out that you are a classically trained musician they will test you and if found to be up to scratch, they will want to recruit you for eventual band service.

Now, you will go through basic training with everybody else, no leeway or special considerations, but at the end of it you will be asked if you wish to join the Band ("la Musique de la Legion Etrangere"). If you don't you should be able to soldier with a regiment of your choice (depending on how well you performed in basic training), but at any point if you volunteer for the Band, you will transfer. The regiments like trained musicians as well, particularly if you can play the bugle. There is always a demand for good buglers.

4) How regularly would you expect to be deployed in the the FFL?
I believe that I have answered that already. In all of the France based operationally deployable regiments it has been usual to get a company four month tour abroad once a year. With the recent curtailment of Op Barkhane in the Sahel, this may be slightly less often currently.

5) What is the quality of leadership like in FFL? I've heard stories about officers and NCOs using cruel punishments, one I read about resulted in a fatality in training. Is this something that happens from time to time or is this a rare occurrence? I expect the training to be harsh and difficult, but at the same time I do not want to join a unit with frequent and unnecessary cruelty.
In my experience nearly all the Officers that I served under were good to excellent to outstanding; with one exception who had got where he was by a bit of string pulling and was noted by all ranks for being a bit of a knob.

Again in my experience SNCOs tended to be at least good with some real stars and a smattering of mediocrities. One must remember that in the French system the basic infantry section (UK parlance, in French it is called a "groupe", while confusingly what in UK parlance is called a platoon is called a "section" in French) is commanded by a "Sergent", so you have at least several in a platoon with a "Sergent-Chef" as the platoon sergeant.

Again in my experience the JNCOs were much more uneven with quite a few twats that didn't deserve to be there among the "Caporaux". Luck of the draw really if you get a bad egg, but the good generally outweigh the bad.

I wrote about discipline in the Legion in my time and it is linked to below. It is now a lot later and quite a lot will have changed. Even when I was in, nobody got buried in sand up to their necks.

Finally, not a question but If I do decide to go for it, my plan would be to take the Drs note that was written for my appeal when I applied to join the Royal Marines; it basically says that the steroids were prescribed for a chest infection, and that I've never been diagnosed with asthma

Thanks for any info
That's for you to decide how you want to play it.

If you haven't done so already read my initial posts in the 2 REP thread and then trawl through the rest using keyword search for the bits that interest you:


 

J9R4W

Clanker
@Condottiere

Thank you for the insight and for answering my Q's, I really appreciate the info you've given. I've also read your posts about in the comparison between the British Parachute Regiment and 2 REP.

There's currently only two further Qs atm, you mentioned that leave/contact with people outside is restricted, such as only 10 days leave if lucky in the first year and more as you go through your career. Outside of leave, how much contact are you allowed with your family via mobile phones etc? I'm single/unmarried but I know that joining the Legion will be tough on my family/parents - this is probably my biggest hang up about joining so far.

You mentioned you had a decent grip of French before joining, but how b*ggered would you be if you're a complete beginner? Would you be thrashed for it or are there options in terms of language lessons once you're in?

Thanks again
 
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@Condottiere

Thank you for the insight and for answering my Q's, I really appreciate the info you've given. I've also read your posts about in the comparison between the British Parachute Regiment and 2 REP.
No worries.
There's currently only two further Qs atm, you mentioned that leave/contact with people outside is restricted, such as only 10 days leave if lucky in the first year and more as you go through your career. Outside of leave, how much contact are you allowed with your family via mobile phones etc? I'm single/unmarried but I know that joining the Legion will be tough on my family/parents - this is probably my biggest hang up about joining so far.
Things have changed since my day (no mobile phones or internet then), but essentially count on being cut off from the outside world during basic training. You may get some limited internet / phone time to contact family briefly at one or two short controlled intervals. But that's it, warn people off that you are likely to be mostly incommunicado until the end of basic training.

After basic training and on posting to your regiment, you are allowed to have more electronic contact with the outside world, but you are still likely to be subjected to some restrictions at least until the end of your first year. Same applies for occasional nights out of Camp or days off at the weekend for a bit of "decontraction" in the local town. Out of all the regiments, 2 REP has always had the most restrictions placed on its junior Legionnaires, but a major plus point in summer was the beach, just a short stroll from Camp Raffalli.

These days, you should get all your allocated leave but in your first year it is likely to be towards the end of it. During your first five year contract, as a foreigner solely under French military legal status, you are officially not entitled to travel abroad on leave unless by special permission for reasons such as the terminal illness or death of a parent. However there are ways around this and after the first year, I was back in UK for leave every year.

Every man (no women can join) who joins the Legion is treated as a single person with no dependants (even if it is acknowledged that some have wives and children back home). For your first five year contract you will live in garrison in communal barrack block accommodation, cheek by jowl with your comrades.

You mentioned you had a decent grip of French before joining, but how much of a b*ggered would you be if you're a complete beginner? Would you be thrashed for it or are there options in terms of language lessons once you're in?
Every potential recruit is assumed to have zero level of French to begin with. It is more to the point to stay sharp, motivated and with your wits about you, so you pick up what is going on straight away. Formal language training is given in Basic Training, where you are far more likely to be beasted for being slow and not alert than you are for not understanding the language,
Thanks again
You are welcome.. Bonne chance.
 
@J9R4W

I couldn't believe how uncannily similar your story is to mine. I thought it was me who had written that post at first it's so similar. I also feel the same way as you. I started writing out my story for you on my journey into the RMs, then realised I had got to 500+ words and was writing a short novel.

I'm attempting FFL selection if my appeal falls through with the RMs.

A former modern British Legionnaire has just published his book on Amazon who has recently served by a guy called Harry Dobson. Born in Halifax. French Foreign Legion Commando. I highly recommend it.

I read it in two days, it's really well written by him, and he had an exemplary 5 years in the Legion. He passed selection for the GCM: The Groupement De Commando Montagne. Mountain warfare commandos.

He literally attempted to join because he was bored of waiting around for Capita, trying to join the British infantry. He was restless and wanted to get going. His Dad even dropped him off at the gates.

There's another famous British Legionnaire, Alex Rowe who I believe is still serving. His story is interesting and you should read up on him. He was awarded the Legion D'honneur, France's highest military honour. He was rejected by the British army when he attempted to join in the 80s, because he had a detached retina in his early childhood. He specialised as a sniper and became one of the Legion's top marksmen. The irony there. He really did want to prove something.

There's another one too I came across giving a Ted talk on Blockchain/Cryptocurrency called Kary Bheemaiah. He wrote an article on LinkedIn you should read on his five years serving with 2REP as a Sniper also. He was a merchant naval maritime mechanical engineer after graduating from Uni in India, and gave that up to join. He's now a successful tech CEO and public speaker.

So go figure from their stories.
 
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@J9R4W

I couldn't believe how uncannily similar your story is to mine. I thought it was me who had written that post at first it's so similar. I also feel the same way as you. I started writing out my story for you on my journey into the RMs, then realised I had got to 500+ words and was writing a short novel.

I'm attempting FFL selection if my appeal falls through with the RMs.

A former modern British Legionnaire has just published his book on Amazon who has recently served by a guy called Harry Dobson. Born in Halifax. French Foreign Legion Commando. I highly recommend it.

I read it in two days, it's really well written by him, and he had an exemplary 5 years in the Legion. He passed selection for the GCM: The Groupement De Commando Montagne. Mountain warfare commandos.

He literally attempted to join because he was bored of waiting around for Capita, trying to join the British infantry. He was restless and wanted to get going. His Dad even dropped him off at the gates.

There's another famous British Legionnaire, Alex Rowe who I believe is still serving. His story is interesting and you should read up on him. He was awarded the Legion D'honneur, France's highest military honour. He was rejected by the British army when he attempted to join in the 80s, because he had a detached retina in his early childhood. He specialised as a sniper and became one of the Legion's top marksmen. The irony there. He really did want to prove something.

There's another one too I came across giving a Ted talk on Blockchain/Cryptocurrency called Kary Bheemaiah. He wrote an article on LinkedIn you should read on his five years serving with 2Rep as a Sniper also. He was a merchant naval maritime mechanical engineer after graduating from Uni in india, and gave that up to join. He's now a successful tech CEO and public speaker.

So go figure from their stories.

Alex Rowe, I know about. The other two are new to me.
 

type42

War Hero
From memory this chap was slightly older and better educated than the average FFL recruit. A good read, seems very gen but then I'm in no position to verify.

Fighting for the French Foreign Legion: Memoirs of a Scottish Legionnaire – 2 Sept. 2009 by Alex Lochrie.​

 
From memory this chap was slightly older and better educated than the average FFL recruit. A good read, seems very gen but then I'm in no position to verify.

Fighting for the French Foreign Legion: Memoirs of a Scottish Legionnaire – 2 Sept. 2009 by Alex Lochrie.​

I knew Alex personally in 2 REP. Good artist and photographer. Nice enough bloke. passed away now.
He liked a good story, a pinch of salt may be necessary from time to time.
 
From memory this chap was slightly older and better educated than the average FFL recruit. A good read, seems very gen but then I'm in no position to verify.

He joined a few months just before his 40th birthday, right at the upper age limit.
 
He joined a few months just before his 40th birthday, right at the upper age limit.
Yes, he was quite fit for his age.
 
@J9R4W

I am researching previous posts and conversations on this topic with others so as to re-use some of my previous replies on this topic. It may end up being a slight mish-mash, but I shall try to keep the flow going.

Firstly:

This year (2022) it will be forty-one years since I joined the Foreign Legion and thirty-six since I left, so I'm not the most up to date person. @Jean d'Epee who posts intermittently on the 2 REP thread mentioned above is currently serving and is probably a good bet for more info (depending on if he's still about and when and whether he has time to answer).

However I can give you some pointers which, despite the intervening years, are still very likely to be relevant. Have you read all the posts in the 2 REP thread? Particularly mine, especially the ones that deal with the bullshit, discipline and prevailing attitudes?

Secondly, the medical selection procedures:

At recruit selection will be grilled thoroughly on your background and why you want to join the Legion and it is always recommended to be as truthful as possible, as the questioning is very deep and inconsistencies rapidly become apparent. An unfulfilled desire to join the UK Armed Forces would be a plus point as it underlines your commitment to serve in a military capacity. Rejection on your stated medical grounds in the UK may not be mirrored by the Foreign Legion, A basic medical is undertaken at the Fort de Nogent in Paris (f you present yourself for recruitment in northern France) and a full thorough medical examination is undertaken at the Legion's Depot in Aubagne. Medical conditions | Légion étrangère.

If successful. the full recruitment selection process takes about three weeks from arrival at the recruiting office to departure from Aubagne to the Training Regiment at Castelnaudary. This is an extremely fast process (and you get paid from the day you sign your contract).

Thirdly, you should be aware of the following:

The Legion recruiting process looks for suitable candidates, that not only have the necessary medical health standards, the relevant physical capabilities (be at a good level of fitness when you join) and who score reasonably on the mental and psychometric tests; but also who have the right attitude, motivation and background to be able to "hack" the Legion and "stay the course". From their point of view, medical test results notwithstanding you are not a prime candidate for the following reasons:

Your background as a UK citizen, a nearby country with advanced living standards (equal to France) where you have many other opportunities available to you to fall back on should you so decide, This is vastly different from many recruits who come from much bleaker backgrounds, have spent their last pennies getting there and for whom the Legion is a lifeline to a secure and respected/respectable future. Your commitment will be regarded as suspect. It is up to you to show them that you really want to become and to stay (at least for the initial five years) a Legionnaire. Coming to the Legion "for adventure" is viewed as suspect as most who do so are quickly disillusioned. There is not much adventure in cleaning toilet rims with a toothbrush while a "Caporal" berates you for being a dirty slacker. When I joined, the British "Rosbifs" had the greatest reputation for desertion.

Your social background is taken into account. I may be very wrong, but I will hazard a guess by the standard of your written English that you are reasonably educated and given the fact that you are in your late twenties relatively mature and worldly-wise, your social class/status may be above most of your peers and of a lot of the non-Officer cadres above you. There will be a question of "fitting in" and "knowing your place" in the hierarchy. Your willingness and ability to do this will be questioned.

Any higher education level (admirable in itself), is a hindrance as a ranker in the Legion. Legionnaires with higher levels of education tend to be disparagingly refffered to as "intellectuels de gauche" by their fellow rankers especially the Junior and Senior NCOs. Critical thinking and initiative is not something that is generally encouraged until the rank of "Sergent". The level of basic training is pitched at the lowest common denominator. It is all in French and it is geared to non-Francophone (i.e non-French speaking) recruits. Blind obedience is de riguer, often to what seem like demeaning and non-sensical orders.

As I've mentioned French, here's a good place to explain that prior knowledge of the French language is not a requirement for joining the Legion. However the more you know to begin with, the easier should be your progression. But an ability to quickly pick it up is a major attribute and good for promotion prospects.

Even when reaching your Regiment, many of your immediate superiors and seniors are likely to be less educated, less cultured, less sensitive than you. You will be expected to conform to their brutishness and brutality. If you don't or if you show any sign of resistance, aggreviation, or if you try to "argue your case" then not only you, but your fellow recruit cohort or your peers on arrrival at your Regiment will feel the brunt of the wrath of the "Caporaux", the JNCOs who are your immediate masters.

You are a cog in the machine and any remaining "imperfections" that prevent you meshing in gear with all the other cogs will be ground away, or the cog itself will be broken and potentially discarded.

In the beginning, you will be subject to a relatively severe restriction of your civil liberties, very basic communal living arrangements, a complete lack of privacy, seemingly arbitrary disciplinary measures (some of them physical), much menial physical work (some of it seemingly pointless), a miniscule amount of "free time", a lack of opportunity to contact the outside world. In fact some recruits from "developed" countries have compared it to prison conditions. You must be ready for this.

This rigourous conditioning of Legionnaires lasts not only in Basic Training, but also for the first few months after posting to your Regiment (especially in 2 REP), when as the "newbies" the arrivals from Castelnaudary are treated as potentially unreliable and are "tested" by their immediate superiors as to their mettle and their willingness to stay in the Regiment. The supposition is that if they crack at the discipline they are subjected to then, then they are likely to crack in combat and let their comrades down.

This tends to finish by the end of the first year's service (sooner if you are lucky enough to go on an Operational tour). Then things calm down a lot and your life becomes relatively normal (still maintaining Legion practices but without the "beasting" reserved for newbies). But you have to understand that basic soldiering remains very basic in the Legion (apart from specialist courses for which you can be pinged relatively early-on if deemed apt). Legionnaires and Legionnaires First Class are just required to unquestioningly carry out orders and these orders are deliberately kept simple and straightforward.

When you get to "Caporal, Chef d'Equipe" (Corporal, Team Leader) which is possible within two years if you are pinged for the rapid promotion ladder, you are given a handful of other Legionnaires to command and maybe a little bit more leeway depending on your "Sergent, Chef de Groupe" (Sergeant, Section/Squad Commander). If you go on a technical specialisation course, you may get some extra responsibilities. It is only when you get to the rank of "Sergent" (possible within your first five year contract if on the rapid promotion ladder) that things start getting interesting and you can be given a lot more responsibility and possibility to "do your own thing" and use your initiative.

All this may seem very strange and quite odd. However, it is a system which takes in recruits from all over the world, many from seemingly inappropriate backgrounds and moulds them into a cohesive and effective fighting force.

If you join, you must be strong-willed, resilient (especially mentally), physically robust, willing to endure hardship, pain and anguish. You must remain clear-headed and objective and understand that there is a method behind the madness (though from time to time the odd headcase/nutjob may lurk there as well - these you have to watch out for). There is no point in signing that five year contract and then flunking out for whatever reason.

There is much opportunity in the Legion and particularly in 2 REP (I am biased, of course). Once you are through the first-year shitty end of the stick, the remaining four-fifths of the original contract can be very rewarding. Then if you want to stay on and the Legion wants you, potentially a full career beckons. A contract with the Legion is definitely two-way. You pledge allegiance to them and they will look after you. The Legion is an integral part of the French Army and you have the full support and resources of a First World military machine. Pay and promotional prospects are good, healthcare and medical support are good. Pensions and injury/disability, social security provision are good. Living terms and conditions although restricted until the end of your initial first five year contract (or earlier if you make the rank of "Sergent") are then equal to the rest of the French Army.

Further continuation separately, as too long for one post.
No wokeness in the FFl , then
 
No wokeness in the FFl , then
I take it you mean the FFL. No there is not. The practical necessity of integrating recruits from around the world precludes any special treatment or favouritism.
 

J9R4W

Clanker
A good , informative thread .

Agreed, thanks for all the contributions people have made.

As it stands I'm yet to submit my appeal to the Army as I'm waiting to take a FENO test which will prove if I've got asthma or not. If I'm still unsuccessful in the appeal then I believe I will likely go for the FFL. The Legion does seem like a more realistic prospect after reading through the info on this thread and finding out more about the Legion.

Cheers all, I'm looking forward to reading more here about the FFL
 
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