French Foreign Legion today -An interview with General de Saint-Chamas

[h=2]I did not translate this but I lifted it from a reliable source, thought it may be of interest.

An interview with General de Saint-Chamas, commander of the Foreign Legion[/h]
This article was published on the Secret Défense blog. You can see the French version here. I'm giving below an English translation.

"The Legion is doing fine!"
An interview with General de Saint-Chamas, commander of the Foreign Legion, on the occasion of the celebrations of Camerone.

This Monday, April 30, the Foreign Legion celebrates Camerone, its traditional festival that commemorates the sacrifice of his men during a fight in Mexico in 1863. This year the ceremonies will be held in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the battle of Bir Hakeim. During the ceremony, at the home base of Aubagne, Captain Danjou’s wooden hand will be carried by Hubert Germain, 91, Companion of the Liberation, former minister and veteran of the 13th DBLE, the last living Legion officer having taken part in this battle on the Free French side.
During the ceremony, father Yannick Lallemand, chaplain of the Legion, will be promoted to the rank of Commander of the Legion of Honor. The "Padre" is a figure of paratroopers and the Legion. Present in Beirut when the attack against the Drakkar outpost occured (1983), he is now very active in helping the injured.
Finally, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Edouard Guillaud will be made "Corporal of honor" of the Foreign Legion, an exceptional distinction.
On the occasion of Camerone, we wanted to review the current state of the Legion with the ‘Legion Father’, the traditional nickname given to the general commanding the Foreign Legion (COM.LE), Christophe de Saint-Chamas. This officer has in particular commanded 1er REC and spent a total of 13 months in Afghanistan, before arriving in Aubagne.

How is the Legion doing?
Very good! His recruitment is excellent. The Legion, and beyond it France, attracts men from 150 countries. We are a vector of national influence.

Where do they come from?
Everywhere. In the last section of 50 men we have just integrated, there are about 30 nationalities. Historically, recruitment is linked to political crises: we've seen White Russians after the bolshevik revolution, Spanish Republicans after the Spanish civil war, Germans after WW2, Eastern Europeans after the fall of the Berlin wall... Today, about a quarter of our recruits still come from Eastern Europe but we now have a lot of Asians (10%). They come from China or Mongolia. Our concern is to maintain a balance so that the amalgam can take place.
Internet has become an essential tool: our recruiting site is in 15 languages. But we only recruit on mainland France: a candidate must come to us on his own, which is a first evidence of his motivation for enlistment.

What about the French?
The "Gauls" - the French - represent only 10% to 15% of our recruitment. The total of French speakers is between 20% and 25%. It's a different situation than what we had 20 or 30 years ago, when half of the recruits were French speakers. We can no longer practice ‘binomage’ for learning French (one French speaker paired with a non-French speaker), but we do ‘quadrinomage’ (one French speaker and three non-French speakers).

How many men do you recruit each year?
Our average is around 1'000. We have been over this average in recent years – up to 1'400 – but this year we are below, around 800. I must say that our global headcount decreases, 600 less positions in three years. Our today's headcount is 7'334, of which 7'000 serve under foreign status : these are all the legionnaires and NCOs, although we have in the Legion some NCOs from the ‘regular’ Army, nicknamed ‘white cadre’, to fill in specialist positions.

What is your selection rate?
One in eight, which means we have a choice. It shows in the general level, which is quite high: 13.5/20. We must finish with a myth: we do not recruit criminals who would try to get forgotten by enlisting in the Legion, even if many of our men have often had problems in their lives and come for a fresh start with the will to leave their past behind them. The Minister of Defence entrusts COM.LE with the responsibility to look after personnel serving under foreign status.

There has always been many deserters in the Legion. What about in 2012?
Let us first examine the notion of a deserter. They are foreigners, and they may feel like going back home, either because they feel better, are homesick or sometimes on a whim. What we can speak of with certainty is the attrition rate: it is 22% during the first six months and 10% in the following six months. This means that one recruit over three (32%) leaves us definitively during the first year. Keeping in our ranks the legionnaires who made the brave choice to engage remains a constant goal for us.

Does one still enlist under a false identity?
Another myth! There is no anonymity at the Legion. There are two situations regulated by law: ‘presumed true identity’ and ‘claimed identity’. 80% of entrants prefer the first solution - they enlist under their (alleged) own name. But we must be careful: ‘presumed real identity’ does not necessarily mean ‘real identity’. A recruit can come with Id documents that may look authentic but that are actually forged. So we need to check in their home country and it can take several months.

This ‘foreign status’ limit their civil rights, such as opening a bank account. What about that?
In France, in order to open a bank account, the bank must verify the identity of his client. In this context, the Legion has a new partnership with Crédit Agricole Alpes-Provence, which allows a legionnaire serving under ‘claimed identity’ to hold a bank account and a payment card.

There have been some unfortunate incidents in your units, with degrading treatment. What do you do to avoid them?
First, we must be humble and not assume that this could not happen again. This is an ongoing battle on the leadership style for all units of the Army. I make a special effort on young Lt: they must not be ‘mythos’ ; I'm looking for officers able to quickly feel that the legionnaires who have left everything behind them have high expectations from their leaders and in particular they expect them to create close bond, mutual respect and trust.
Let me be clear: the Legion is not above the law! There is no immunity specific to the Legion that could entitle us to free ourselves from laws and regulations, and I'm not here to cover up errors of command.
The Legion protects the legionnaires against their own past or, more precisely, against the past they have declared upon enlistment. If a legionnaire enlisted telling us he was wanted in his country for car theft, it is one thing, but if we learn later that he is also wanted for the murder of 5 people in his hometown, it is quite another situation and we will surrender him to Justice.

Still no women at the Legion?
Yes, there are a few female officers and NCOs - and things are going very well. But foreign recruitment is not open to women. Basic training involves a lot of promiscuity. The first month, men live together on a farm in 4e RE. This way of doing ensures a quick mix and integration of all cultures.
The presence of women would provoke tensions and jealousies between legionnaires in an already fragile environment. And the main difficulty would come from the difference in culture and approach, from one country to another, in relation to women.

Do the legionnaires all become French at the end of their contract?
They must first express an interest in getting French citizenship and this is not always the case. Some go back home and don't wish to settle in France. Each legionnaire is free of choice. On average, there are 200 to 250 naturalizations every year. If we consider that about 1’000 men enlist every year, with one third leaving in the first year, that means that a legionnaire over three eventually becomes French. There is also a law, unanimously adopted in 1999, which allows a legionnaire WIA to get French citizenship as of right, if he wishes to. This is the principle of acquiring French nationality “By the blood shed”.
Hilarious choice of words. The Legion may never live that one down!
Hello Sailor fancy a holiday on a Farm in Corsica? Spinal Tap - Sex Farm - YouTube

To be fair the word means mixed up without order and he's trying to explain that the blokes are chucked into delapidated Corsican farm buildings during one phase and they have to sort themselves out while there. Training brings out aggression, cliques are formed etc and a few chicks may make things worse.

Basic is usually done in Castelnaudary - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia , the base there is often known as "The Farm".


Book Reviewer
Do they just let them go them if they desert?

I thought they hunted them for life across all continents?

Dam you Van Damme for giving me that impression in one fo your **** movies.
Do they just let them go them if they desert?

I thought they hunted them for life across all continents?

Dam you Van Damme for giving me that impression in one fo your **** movies.

Hollywood myth , they would be pretty busy if that was the case , 1 in 3 piss off in the first year , there are thousands of AWOLs around the world.
La formation de base oblige à beaucoup de promiscuité.

Translation: a lack of privacy (as in a barrack block, circa 1980). Less amusing than the franglais, but the General would not dream of breaking wind in your general direction.

I like the way he addressed bullying without ever actually mentioning it a true polititian
Interesting article.

??? Is this a mistranslation, or is man-love a major part of Legion basic?

Yes, it is a mis-translation as you phrase it. It used to be translated as - " enjoying congress in the Albanian manner ".
Hollywood myth , they would be pretty busy if that was the case , 1 in 3 piss off in the first year , there are thousands of AWOLs around the world.

Is it true though that they have your passport/ID details and any legal return to France means you'll be banged up as a deserter?

Just want to put an urban myth to rights.
Is it true though that they have your passport/ID details and any legal return to France means you'll be banged up as a deserter?

Just want to put an urban myth to rights.

Sure they have your ID/passport and you could get banged up in France but they dont have jurisdiction outside France unless you were wanted for a serious crime then Interpol would be involved.

Loads about it here Deserters


Book Reviewer
just for collateral both on why Camerone is a notable Legion date and for background to Capt Danjou:

"We May Die, but Never Will Surrender" - The Battle of Cameron

On April 29, 1863, the 3rd Company of the 1st Battalion was ordered to accompany a column from Vera Cruz to Peubla as one leg of a very long journey for a very valuable cargo - gold bullion, some three million francs, to pay the French army of the interior. There were other items of significance scattered amid the 60 carts and 150 mules, but everyone knew that it was likely that knowledge of the gold would become widespread before the column cleared the city gates. Worse than that, the 3rd Company, whose normal complement was three officers and 112 men, was reduced by nearly half due to illness. All three officers and 50 men were unfit for duty when the company was given the assignment. The battalion adjutant major, Captain Jean Danjou, an experienced soldier who sported a flowing mustache and thick goatee, offered to assume command. He was a good choice. Courageous, an excellent combat officer, he had lost a hand in Algiers and wore a wooden hand to replace it.

Two other officers were needed. Lieutenant Maudet of the 1st Company and Lieutenant Vilian, the battalion paymaster quickly volunteered. The men of the 3rd Company could forgive Maudet being an officer from the 1st Company (soldiers often looked at other units, even those that they had served with, with suspicion), but Vilian was the battalion paymaster and the largely uneducated enlisted men were certain that Vilian used official trickery to slice their already meager pay to virtually nothing. He was hated by the common Legionnaires, and had to prove himself to them. Danjou would lead the way, scouting the road, he explained to Jeanningros, with the mules and wagons to follow two hours behind. Jeanningros wondered aloud if 65 men were enough to protect such a valuable convoy. They are Legionnaires, the captain reminded his colonel.

Early on the morning of the 30th of April the column set out from the village of Chiquihuite and made its way, route-step, toward Puebla. Danjou stationed himself in the road with a small party and the pack mules; one hundred yards on either side of him were two equal columns of Legionnaires. They were a colorful lot; Havelock's and white kepis long since stained with dust, red, baggy wool pantaloons, and blue, red-trimmed tunics darkened with sweat, with bright red epaulettes setting squarely across the Legionnaires shoulders. They could have been better armed of course - the 70 caliber smoothbore musket carried quite a punch but the range was limited. And it was rumored that the Juarists had been well supplied with modern American weapons. But no matter, they carried bayonets and every good French soldier knew the importance of bravery and cold steel.

At about 7 a.m. they passed the nearly destroyed village of Cameron. Danjou noted that the only structures that still stood were portions of a stonewall, a deserted farmhouse or inn, and several outbuildings. Nearly a mile down the road, Danjou called the columns in and ordered the men to rest and fix coffee. Despite the early hour, the heat and dust had taken its toll on the Legionnaires, and they had had nothing to eat since the previous evening. Water for their coffee had just come to a boil when call-to-arms was sounded with cries that enemy cavalry was approaching. The men snatched their muskets and formed ranks but in the confusion the mules bearing their extra ammunition and supplies bolted off.

Danjou quickly took stock of the situation. There were several hundred mounted Juarists forming into position to attack him and it was obvious that the tiny band of Legionnaires would be overwhelmed in the first charge. Captain Danjou formed a rectangle, and using the dense clumps of thickets that dotted the barren landscape as natural abatis, keeping them between his enemy and his pitiful band, he moved slowly back to Camerone. When the Juarists came too close, Danjou stopped the rectangle, ordered a volley, and then set out again for the sanctuary of a few stone buildings.

If Danjou had known what he was facing as he and his tiny command backtracked down the Peubla road, he might have been truly concerned. The few hundred horsemen were really 800 horsemen followed closely by 1,200 infantry under Colonel Milan. The redoubtable French captain also lost 16 of his men (apparently separated and captured during the retreat), which left him with 49 officers and men. And the Juarists, guessing his intention, had beaten him to Camerone. Several enemy sharp shooters were stationed in the second story of the farmhouse and began firing as Danjou's men poured into the courtyard. Knowing that he could not defend the walls with the enemy snipers behind him, Danjou fell back to the rough collection of outbuildings and portions of the stonewall to fight it out. The enemy immediately obliged him. Twice the Juarist cavalry charged but it was impossible for them to maneuver properly in the cramped courtyard. Both times they were forced back.

At about 9 a.m. Colonel Milan approached under a flag of truce and demanded that Danjou surrender, pointing out that he had two thousand men poised to attack the Legionnaires. Danjou refused the demand and the attack resumed. Musket smoke boiled within the interior of the outbuildings as the Legionnaires, loaded and fired; the barrels of their muskets almost too hot to handle. Men were numb from heat and exhaustion and the din of battle. Danjou, despite his own thirst, made his way from Legionnaire to Legionnaire, comforting them. They had little water and any attempt to reach a well on the far side of the house was suicide.

The enemy began their attacks again, trying to drive a wedge into the defender's makeshift fortress but the small courtyard forced the attackers directly into the fire of the Legionnaires. The Juarists fell back and as Danjou was urging his men on, a sniper shot him. Lieutenant Vilian, the hated paymaster, now became the commander of the pitiful force. It must have been Danjou who inspired him, or the defiance of men who faced certain death, or perhaps the qualities that make some men Legionnaires, but Vilian called to his soldiers: "Mes enfants! I command you now. We may die, but never will surrender." Vilian led the dwindling band of Legionnaires for nearly four hours after the death of his captain, but he too was killed, falling as the enemy rushed the Legionnaires.

It was Maudet's turn to command, and he again refused Milan's demand to surrender. After another attack Milan approached the Legionnaires under a flag of truce and the scene that greeted him was nearly indescribable. Dead and wounded Legionnaires were sprawled throughout the interior of the outbuildings and the putrid odor of death filled the air. Thousands of flies buzzed frantically, gorging themselves on the dead flesh of the bloated, stiffening bodies. The wounded cried out for water in pitiful, hoarse whispers, but there was none to give them. Facing Milan, barely able to stand, was Maudet and 12 Legionnaires. No surrender, Maudet said, and Milan returned to his position. Within the hour Milan ordered another attack, but this like the others, was driven off. It had taken its toll on the Legionnaires, however; now all that remained was Maudet and five enlisted men. They had gone through the pouches of their fallen comrades, desperately looking for ammunition. They had only one round apiece; but they had their bayonets. "Load," Maudet ordered. "At my command, fire. Then follow me through the breach. We'll end this with our bayonets." They formed a wedge, with Maudet at the apex, fired a volley, and charged into the mass of Juarists. The enraged enemy, caught up in the frenzy of battle, surrounded the tiny group and literally clubbed them to the earth.

Colonel Milan fought his way to the scene of the one-sided battle and saved his men from tearing the Legionnaires to pieces. Just two of the six survived, with the 16 men captured earlier and one Legionnaire captured during the fight itself. The Juarists lost approximately 300 killed and 300 wounded.

Such incidents fade from memory, pushed off the pages of history books by more monumental occurrences. There is no theme for historians to discuss, and the battle is hardly a watershed as events go. For the Legionnaire there remains a plaque with a few words on it, and a celebration on the anniversary of the battle. Perhaps the Legionnaires understand that such encounters are not usually commemorated outside of the Legion, and therefore people would know very little about Camerone. There is tangible evidence of the day that saw 65 Legionnaires stand off 2,000 Juarists; a relic preserved by the Legion - Danjou's wooden hand found shortly after the battle. It is a reminder of the only theme truly associated with the events of April 29, 1863: courage.

" Legionnaires - Rangez-vous. Camerone! "

Le Chevre
I still think I'm right about the secret phone number that all ex Legionnares have if they are in trouble anywhere in the world.


I still think I'm right about the secret phone number that all ex Legionnares have if they are in trouble anywhere in the world.

no - there is a central record place the Interpol Bureau in the country of arrest contacts to verify fact they have served
I still think I'm right about the secret phone number that all ex Legionnares have if they are in trouble anywhere in the world.

Nice idea but there`s no help from the Legion , ex Legionnaires would help you out and there are ex Legion clubs around the world.


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few years in the FFL 2e Rep never did me any harm. they begged me to stay after my 5. I had to decline as already headhunted by british special forces.
What are you on about?

I recall reading somwehere that all Ex Legionnares could call a number, wherever they were in the world, if they were in trouble and help would arrive pretty sharpish. Bit like the AA but with guns and fast cars.

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