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Soldier of Fortune


Legion is your family, your homeland, your Fatherland


Soldiers of fortune. Who are they? Many mistakenly attribute them to representatives of private military companies, so popular lately. For example, the mysterious Wagner, which has been flashing in the news feeds more and more often lately. However, this is not entirely true.

Soldiers of fortune, wild geese, dogs of war, all these bold, self-confident names referred to the French legionnaires.

A veteran of the legion shared his memories of the service with the correspondent.

- Specify me as Laurent, - my interlocutor asked in advance. -That's what they called me in the Legion. That period of time has nothing to do with my real name or my current life.

During the whole time of our acquaintance, Laurent mentioned the Legion several times in passing, but didn’t go into much detail. Until I decided to ask him to tell me everything from the beginning. To be honest, I didn't really count on success then, but he agreed.


Our people in the legion


There is a legendary and myth-shrouded unit in the army of the French Republic, which even today has practically no analogues – the French Foreign Legion, Laurent began his story. - That's where I ended up in the mid-nineties, although I didn't plan it at all.

One of the myths is that legionnaires are mercenaries, and serving in the legion is a criminal offense. That's not so. Legionnaires are volunteers who serve in the ranks of the active French army. And the uniqueness of the Legion is that it can be attributed to rapid reaction troops, rescuers, special forces, and special operations forces.

Historically, foreigners usually serve in the legion. In my time there were many Europeans, especially from eastern Europe and the former republics of the USSR, many representatives from countries that were formerly colonies of France. At the same time, the number of the entire Legion was less than eight thousand people, but they managed to fight wherever NATO forces participated. Of course, there are also Frenchmen there. After the attempted military coup, for which the first regiment of the Legion's paratroopers was disbanded, there was a rule that at least 50 percent of the fighters should be French.

Russian language was understood by almost everyone, even Poles and Germans from the GDR in conversation switched to Russian, because it was taught in all countries of the socialist camp. Of course, the corporals and sergeants made sure that everyone spoke French and punished those who couldn’t cope. Ukrainians were already harmful even then, they spoke incomprehensibly, and they had their own "mafia" there - they helped their compatriots to pass tests, and hindered others.

I've known about the Legion since I was a kid. My parents subscribed to the magazine "Foreign Military Review". I read it all and knew, perhaps, more about the armies and arsenals of NATO than any military commissar. Information was printed there, including on the Foreign Legion. But I had no other information. Legion did not advertise itself. There was only the most general information about the recruitment points. And I didn't plan to serve in it.

Let me remind you, this is the mid-nineties, the Internet in its most rudimentary form, computers were a luxury, pagers had just begun to spread massively, and information was transmitted over long distances by fax.

There was a myth that anyone could be taken into the legion. The main thing is to be physically healthy, not completely stupid and be able to get there somehow. And no one cares about your past, even criminal. This image was in the minds of many, and I, of course, thought the same.

But, let's start in order.


Legion Myths


It was the nineties, if you remember that time, then you understand what I'm talking about now. I lived in the Urals, I won't specify where exactly. The situation was such that because of "misunderstandings" with an authoritative comrade of one criminal group, it was necessary to leave there. My choice fell on St. Petersburg, because the nearest flight was there. But after some time it became clear that this did not solve the problem and I had to leave Russia. I have only good memories of St. Petersburg at that time, despite the fact that the city was the most thuggish. There I met people who can be attributed to the tops of the emerging Russian statehood and culture. For example, I talked with Slava Barkovsky, who wrote the bestseller "Russian Transit". I thought he was just a writer. I realized who he was only when I later saw in the TV series "Gangster Petersburg" a scene where he and several other reputable bandits of that time played themselves.

All my student life I was engaged in driving cars from Europe to Russia. Then it was possible to leave the country quite calmly, visas were given easily. In addition, in order to safely move from Brest to Poland, I bought a Polish passport for $ 25. My first visa was to France, there was no Schengen at that time. There were francs in France, and I had francs. The choice became obvious.

- Did you decide to leave your homeland alone?

- No, I had a friend, we used to work together. He was such a "tourist" in life. If we talk about tramps, it's about him. He walked through Russia, like Alyosha Peshkov, and we walked through Europe with him, and then he repatriated to Israel. So fate brought me together with him again in St. Petersburg. He had an understanding of how and where to go and what to do. We didn't think at all about what we would do there. We just drove. We stopped in Strasbourg and started hanging out there. There was no specific goal. After three months, the money began to run out and I had to think about how to survive. In Europe at that time, things were bad with work. In Russia, we thought that everything was fine there, but in reality it was not - thousands of refugees came to the metropolis from former colonies. Plus thousands of refugees from the former Yugoslavia, where there was a war. Dirt, crime, drugs - this is the France of the nineties.

- Where did you live? Have you rented a place?

- In fact, everywhere. Sometimes we rented, sometimes we lived on the street. When we first arrived, it was summer, it was warm and you could even live in the park and wash in public toilets. If we needed to wash or change clothes, we went to the Red Cross. There you will be fed, watered and given clean clothes. It was fun. Problems began to appear with the onset of cold weather. And then one of my new friends came up with this idea: "Let's go to the legion." So we went, seven people gathered. We were refused at the Strasbourg reception center. They didn't even let us into the territory. It was weird. The myth was that they take everyone who got there! And they didn't even talk to us. There is some guy in uniform who is just silent. We didn't know then that we could come when he changed and try again. So we took the train to Marseille. We found a recruitment point there and history repeated itself. They don't take us and that's it. It's getting late. This is where the knowledge gained from the Soviet military magazine that the Foreign Legion base is located in Oban came in handy. All recruits from all recruiting stations still end up in Oban. We got there in the dark and found ourselves on the other side of the fence without any problems.

One of my first vivid impressions was the Legion museum and a doctor's examination. More precisely, the servant of Hippocrates looked at everyone's teeth only. This was the entire initial medical examination. Who passed the draft commission in our military enlistment offices will understand my surprise. Everyone's documents were taken away and left to wait until morning. The next day we were already given tracksuits, cheap Chinese sneakers, a shaving kit, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a change of underwear. They were placed in barracks. To be honest, it was a surprise to me how many of our people are there. Eastern Europe and CIS countries. Almost everyone spoke Russian. There are many former paratroopers from the Soviet army. It was easy to figure them out by the tattoos of the "Airborne Forces". Most of all, by the way, there are immigrants from Ukraine, they were both corporals and corporal-chiefs. They had their own Ukrainian mafia, it was hard for a Russian, a Belarusian to get there. In general, I had an advantage, since I entered the legion as a Pole. I bought a Polish passport in Brest for $ 25 even when I was driving cars.

Myths began to dissipate immediately. One of them: "You can be any criminal, but if you come to the legion, they will take you." Nothing like that. The first question was about criminal records. One recruit was kicked out in front of me because he tried to hide this fact of his biography, and someone turned him in.

The second point is that they do not take into the legion without documents. They won't even pour tea, just adios amigos. A guy I know with a driver's license was not taken. You must have a passport.

Many, when they went to the legion, buried the original documents. There were various rumors, and they said that before accepting you, you should cut your passport. Because from the moment you entered the path of a legionnaire, you are a new person. This also turned out to be a myth. You're not a new person and you don't have a French citizenship.


Legio Patria Nostra


This all sobered us up a bit, of course. We really thought there would be a contract for three years and then you're French. At that time, the structure was not very clear to us. We thought that the legion was only a parachute regiment, an elite that participates in all military operations. They are the rapid reaction forces. In fact, the legion is eight regiments, at that time with a total strength of only seven and a half thousand people. Not so much. There is no heavy equipment at all, no tanks, no helicopters. There are light tanks and armored vehicles. I immediately said I wanted to be a driver.

- Have they asked you where you want to go?

- No, they didn't ask directly, of course, but they were interested in what we can do. I spent a great time in the city of Oban. I volunteered in the vineyards, training at the stadium – I ran, pulled up, trained in the pool and volunteered again. I've always tried to get to work in the vineyards. The Legion has its own.

Another interesting point, the motto of the legionnaires "Legio Patria Nostra" - Legion is your Fatherland. You serve no one, neither France nor Russia, only the legion. So, the legion at the base among the vineyards has a kind of dormitory, a nursing home in other words. There veterans can meet old age. If you are unlucky in life, you can come here from any country and, if you are a former legionnaire and you have a completed contract, you can live out your days there. Volunteers will take care of you, feed you, clothe you.

- Can a legionnaire officially change his first and last name?

- Yes, you can if you want. But this greatly complicates your life, since in order to obtain citizenship you will still have to present the originals of all the documents that are necessary for this. For example, a birth certificate. And there is no secret that you are in the legion. You write a letter to your relatives under dictation that you have become a legionnaire, and it is sent to your home by mail. You must have really very good reasons to change your personal data. Legion can issue you documents for a new name at the end of the contract, but this does not happen immediately. First you need to apply for a residence permit. While you are in the legion, you automatically have this right, as soon as you are expelled, especially if ahead of time, you lose everything.

- How much were you paid?

- The salary was in francs. While we were volunteers, we were paid the equivalent of 32 US dollars a day, almost 1000 per month. Later, while serving in Djibouti, we received 1600-1800 dollars a month, and when we returned to France again, it was 1000-1200 dollars.

I was lucky, because I was tested for a long time. Only after two weeks of staying in Oban, I began to take tests. It was necessary to run three kilometers in 12 minutes, then pull-ups and push-ups. Most of all they paid attention to running. Then the stage, which was called the "Gestapo" among themselves. These are conversations with officers, psychologists about everything, various psychological tests. I didn't want to stay, maybe that's why everything went very easily for me. It took me almost two months.

After Oban, I was sent to Rouge. This is a training school, which is located in Castelnaudary, the 4th Regiment. Our stay there began with the intimidation that if we speak Russian, we will be punished. Not only the guilty one, but the whole company. A hundred push-ups for any word not spoken in French. None of us spoke French. Even those Africans who were from Algeria spoke in such a way that it was not possible for an officer to understand them. We started learning the language with the charter. It was necessary to know it, and also the code of the legionnaire and the anthem of the Legion. The training was very interesting. You sit, and one of the "older brothers" points, for example, at a shoe, and calls, and you repeat. It is easy to remember. The charter was learned. They also scared us with night marches for 10 kilometers, promised the horrors of mountain training in the Alps, but nothing really happened. But we did shoot a lot. We fired from everything that is in service with the legion: Famas- an assault rifle of a legionnaire, shotguns, sniper rifles, anti-tank kits ... It is still not very clear to me why Famas was adopted by the French army. This is an accurate, but far from the most reliable and convenient weapon.

Four months have passed in this way. The basics were literally hammered into us. Legionnaires are always together in any situation, the Legion is your family, your Homeland, your Fatherland, you serve France, but the Legion is above all.

And everything like that.

- Were there women in the Legion?

- No, there were no women at all. Men also worked in the kitchen. Talking about the kitchen, I should note that the food was always very good. And there was a lot of it. We were not restricted in food. Breakfast: bread, fruit, cereals, muesli, yoghurts, cheese, meat, side dish consisting of various vegetables, coffee, juice, cola. For lunch: different soups, meat, cutlets, potatoes, often pasta. Dinner is like lunch, but without soups. In addition, crackers, coffee and cola were available and sold at the base.

After completing the training, we received a legionnaire's cap and returned to Oban, where the distribution of regiments began. I was sent to Africa, to Djibouti.

- What were you doing there?

- In general, the legion's combat tasks are the protection of the French and citizens of allied states in extreme situations and the implementation of UN peacekeeping missions. Djibouti was a colony of France and the Legion's military base was always located on its territory. After independence, the Legion supported the Government of the Republic of Djibouti. There was a training ground where legion instructors trained fighters from friendly tribes, allies and paratroopers of the 2nd regiment in the war in the desert and in the jungle, the 13th demi-brigade. 13 is something like special forces. Sappers who are functionally similar to American green berets. They travel through villages, demolish enemy fortifications, build bases and strong points, look for mines, of course, and interact with the population. The reconnaissance of the 13 demi-brigade is something like a death squadron - the protection of outposts, communications, raids on troubled territories. They are constantly on the move. Infantry, a whole regiment, which is located at outposts and in fortified areas. Everyone is constantly busy with something: changing at checkpoints, delivering humanitarian aid, protecting civilians. We drove army trucks and delivered equipment, water and humanitarian aid… We got into small skirmishes when we were delivering loads of food to the posts, or delivering humanitarian aid. But it wasn't often. We fired back rather for fun. I have never felt any threat to my life. The only thing is that we were immediately warned not to contact local women there, that's where the real threat is. You can catch such diseases that you won't be happy later. But that didn't stop anyone. After a little over a year, we were returned to France.

- Has it ever happened that legionnaires were killed?

- No one has been buried in my memory. I was there at a relatively quiet time and didn't hear that anyone died in Djibouti. In general, the outposts there are very well equipped. Sappers set up tents and modules so that you can't be seen from anywhere, while you have an almost perfect view, as far as possible for such conditions.

There were injuries sometimes, but for the most part they were not serious. The paratroopers have dislocations, sprains. If something serious happened to the guys, they were immediately sent to the Legion hospital, to France. I know there were deaths in Rwanda, but that was before me. In general, for the Legion, the death of a fighter is a real emergency, the commission immediately arrives and conducts an investigation. Even serious injuries are carefully checked under what circumstances and who is to blame.

- Have you killed someone?

- There was no such goal. Legionnaires are not punishers. Our task was to prevent the locals from chopping each other down and shooting each other with cheap Chinese rifles. Basically, we carried out UN assignments. Therefore, if there were corpses, it was only local and not at the hands of legionnaires. I have never heard of the murder of a European. Although there were constant battles, for the legion performs peacekeeping missions there.

- And when you returned from Africa, what did you do?

- I was just serving. I studied to be a mechanic. There was nothing interesting at all. This is good for sappers in France. They perform the functions of the Ministry of Emergency Situations there, extinguish fires, fight floods or droughts, remove cats from trees. And after the rotation, I was bored there and there was less money, since the African combat allowances were removed. It has already become clear that a career in the Legion is being built for a very long time, it does not bring money and there is no reason for me to get French citizenship and I do not need to change my name either. There is not enough money to rest on the Riviera, but just to ride around France on weekends and on vacation – what haven't I seen there? Besides, it's the 90s. Back then, no one was a fan of legionnaires and in the social pyramid you are at the very bottom. This means that being a legionnaire, it is almost impossible to find a life partner. And it became boring there after Africa. At home, more or less everything settled down, and I decided to leave.

- Is it possible to just leave the legion?

- Yes. The Legion did not even pursue deserters. I wrote a report for family reasons. I was embarrassed to leave in front of the commander just like that, we are friends after all. No one, by the way, asked me about the reasons and did not persuade me to stay. If you decide it's your right. A week later I received the payment and the documents with which I came. That's all. To the train station and to Berlin. I bought a car there and went to Minsk, then returned to Moscow. The guys who were in Africa just left with the ends. Then they passed through the guys that everything was fine, there was no need to look, they just went home. And it is clear that they went to their friendly PMCs to take wells in Nigeria.

If I am ever asked to briefly describe my career as a legionnaire, I will say this: I did not intend to serve in France, but it happened. The skills acquired there, not to say that they saved my life, but they allow me to feel confident. I keep in touch with my friends. Although over time, everything is forgotten.

I don't dream about the service, as many say, I'm not nostalgic, but I wouldn't refuse to be there again. In Djibouti. Although, I was young, and probably that was the coolest thing.


Source: Glagol Media

The photos were taken from open sources on the Internet