The French Foreign Legion
la Légion étrangère


In the summer of 1999, I gave away a bunch of my personal posessions, settled all my debts, took a "vacation" from my job, and went off to France to join The French Foreign Legion. It was one of those "life-shaping" events that forever changed me. Even though I was only there for a week, it's probably safe to say that if I hadn't gone there I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now.

I had been feeling like I was missing something in life for a few years before that summer. I felt like my life was aimless, pointless, boring, depressing, etc... Due to a certain combination of events in my personal life, I began thinking about the Foreign Legion. I had actually thought about it many times throughout my life, but never really seriously considered joining. It was just some mythic organization that I had heard about, or seen in the media (like the comic strip "Crock"). Then my interest got serious.

I actually began planning my trip a couple years in advance of that summer. It wasn't until I bought the plane ticket that my decision started to take-on a more "real" feeling (or perhaps it was "unreal"). I hired my sister's ex-boyfriend, an ex-marine, to run me through some physical training in preparation. I also saw every movie, read every book, and visited every web site that I could find about the Foreign Legion (at that time, there weren't so many web sites about the Legion, not like there are now), the main web site being Thierry de Cervens' page. I also lifted weights, marched through the woods in combat boots with a 50 lb pack on my back, and took French classes at the local community college.

My parents and friends didn't take my decision very well. I suppose that was to be expected. Most people thought I was nuts. Most people didn't believe I was really going to do it either. My dad got real mad, but wound-up driving me to the airport when that day came. My coworkers didn't really think I'd do it either, but when I told my boss that I was going to resign to go do this, he realized I was serious. He offered to hold my position open for me, in case it didn't "work-out" and I came back. We decided that I would just take some of my unused leave time (a "vacation"), and if he didn't hear from me in 1 month, that he could assume I wasn't coming back.

Most people asked me "why?" The only thing I could say was that it was something that I just had to do. The more I thought about it, the more I had to do it. If I had changed my mind and decided not to go, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. It felt like the "right" thing to do. My boss understood this, and after having a heart-to-heart in an airport on a business trip, he even encouraged me to do it (at least SOMEBODY had some sense!).

The following is a post I made to Theirry de Cervens' message board shortly after I returned from the Legion. It describes my whole trip, from preparation to coming back, with some advice for other would-be legionnaires, and some post-adventure reflection.

One thing that the post doesn't mention is how this experience affected my life's plan. While I was there, I kept telling the other "Candidats" that, if they should get in, they should spend as much time as possible in the computer labs, and to learn as much as they could about computers. I said that when they got out of the Legion, and wanted to get a job, a knowledge of computers would help them greatly. I kept preaching this so much that I had to ask myself why I was there...I felt that I should be doing something in computers -- something at the forefront of technology. Thus I decided to come back and embark upon my great "life's plan."

Before I decided to join the Legion, I read a lot of postings on Thierry de Cervens' web board, visited every Legion-related website I could find, bought and every kind of documentary book about the Legion past and present that I could find, and asked questions via email and postings of Anciens and other "wannabe's" who knew more than I did. I also visited the mass-transit web site for Paris (look up "RER RATP" on a search engine) and read tourist books about travelling in France and Paris in particular. I also enrolled myself in two semesters worth of beginning French classes at a community college. This process took 2 years. I also got laser surgery (LASIK) to remove my need for glasses. At the time, the LASIK was a $5000 (USD) investment (for both eyes). I trained by marching with a heavy pack through the woods. I also later did some running and weight lifting. I had read many things about the physical requirements during selection that I would later find to be untrue. In any case, all that physical preparation was good for me. I also adjusted my sleeping schedule about a month prior to leaving to prepare for the timezone shift.

I am a US citizen. Something that people always said was "you will lose your citizenship if you join the Legion." This is false. I visited the website of the US Department of State and did some research there about loss of citizenship issues. What I found was that four conditions for loss of citizenship could apply in my situation, but would never: (1) I would have to overtly declare that I no longer wished to be a US citizen; (2) If I swore an oath of loyalty to a foreign government; (3) If I enlisted to serve in a foreign military of a hostile nation; (4) If I took up arms against the US. Since I would not declare that I no longer wished to be a US citizen, item 1 would not occur. Since I would be swearing an oath to the Legion and not really to France (although technically, it is probably an oath to France -- perhaps by proxy -- the US government would probably overlook that) item 2 would not be an issue. Since France is not considered a "hostile" nation (like say Iraq or Libya), item 3 would not be an issue. Since france is not a hostile nation to the US (militarily speaking), item 4 would never apply.

For US citizens, we do not require a visa to travel to France so long as we have a return ticket (we are then, technically, tourists). The Legion mentions something about obtaining a visa after joining (actually becoming a Legionnaire -- not entering the Selection process), but I don't know the details of that.

I called Air France and got a round-trip ticket to france for about $950 (USD) from Washington-Dulles (Washington, DC area) direct to Paris. I was scheduled to arrive in Paris at Charles de Gaulle International Airport on August 2, 1999 and return at the beginning of September. My fare was for the regular coach class (which REALLY sucked -- it was cramped and I got very little sleep).

I found the address for the recruiting depot in Paris via numerous Legion web sites. It is in a suburb of Paris called Fontenay sous-bois. It was impossible for me to find a street map of Paris that included the Fontenay sous-bois area as it is outside what I call the Paris "beltway" (a highway that encircles Paris), which seems to be the stopping point for most street maps of Paris. I did, however, find the general location. Fontenay sous-bois is directly east of Paris, just outside that circular highway. In fact, there is a commuter train (called the "RER") that has a station there, oddly enough, called "Fontenay sous-bois". You have to take two different lines to get from Charles de Gaulle to Fontenay sous-bois. The Blue RER starts at the Airport. You have to buy a ticket. Everyone in the airport speaks English, so you can ask them where to buy a ticket for the RER. When you get to the ticket office, ask them for a one-way ticket to Fontenay sous-bois. Keep the ticket with you the whole time, and make sure it stays in pristine condition (don't stick it in your mouth or crumple or fold it). There are apparently multiple stations at the airport. You want to get on a train headed for Paris (obviously). You should change trains at Chatelet Les Halles (a very major station) -- it will be quite a ways away from the airport -- but pay attention. If you wind up on the express train from the airport (like I did), it will not stop at many stations, but one of the stations it WILL stop at is Chatelet Les Halles. You should just have to walk across the platform to get on the Red RER train. There are MULTIPLE Red RER trains. You want the one headed for Boissy St-Leger (the endpoint -- it is RER A2). Each train has a map stuck above the door in the ceiling. LOOK AT THE MAP. Pay attention to the stations once on the train. The station before Fontenay sous-bois is Vincennes. Fontenay sous-bois is a minor station. For those familiar with trains whose doors automatically open -- these don't. If you are the only one getting off at this station, you will have to push a lever on the door to open it. Do it as soon as the train stops. Once on the platform at Fontenay sous-bois, find the large area map stuck to the wall. Look on the map for the large black fort (you really can't miss it). It is Fort de Nogent. Find the train station on the map. Figure out what streets you need to take to get from the train station to the Fort. I tried to scribble down the map, but wound up getting lost anyway. I remembered a few street names and the general layout, as well as the fact that the fort was East of the train station, so I just kept walking East (judging by the Sun) and eventually came to the entrance. When you exit the train station, you will have to put the ticket that you bought into a turnstyle. If it cannot be read by the machine, you will have to find a station attendant to help you. NOBODY AT FONTENAY SOUS-BOIS STATION SPEAKS ENGLISH.

You will know when you reach the Fort as there is a traffic circle with a huge sign indicating LEGION ETRANGERE off to the side. The Fort will be nowhere to be seen. There is what appears to be a tree-lined driveway next to the sign that leads down between two apartment buildings. Walk down this driveway and eventually the stone walls and gate of a very ancient looking fortress will come into view. There will be no doubt in your mind that this is the place as above the gate are the words LEGION ETRANGERE. At this point, I got a tingling sensation down my neck. The most complicated part of your trip is now over.

I walked up to the gate and the guard buzzed me in. Just like the books say, he knew exactly why I was there. He motioned for me to walk around the small guardhouse to the door. He stared at me expectantly as I nervously said "Je voudrais m'inscrire dans la Legion Etrangere". He sparked up and said "Okay!" He asked me for my passport, which I gave to him. He looked at it and was surprised to find that I was an American. He asked me if I came from the Airport. I said yes. He asked me if I had any knives, guns, bombs, gas or drugs. I said no. He then took me to a side room where I had to sit and wait for a while. Another guy had come before me and was already waiting in the room. He was a francophonic African who didn't speak any English. We just made some smalltalk in French. After a while, a different Legionnaire showed up with our passports in hand. He motioned for us to follow him. We walked around the Fort to a room in the fort wall. It was a dining area. The tables were all laid out, as if a large contingent of people were expected to arrive soon. Each plate had a piece of bread on it. There were two guys in blue jump suits that ran around and filled our glasses with Coca-Cola. We were then fed a delicious, hearty meal of steak and potato fries, bread, a bananna, cheese and ice cream. I gobbled up my meal as fast as possible, having learned from some time spent in a military school that I should do everything fast in the military. I could barely finish my meal when our escorting Legionnaire returned and took us to a large building and up the stairs to the top floor. When we got up there, there were a bunch of guys scurrying around in green jumpsuits and blue jumpsuits who were being yelled at by another Legionnaire. He put us in a waiting room where we were surrounded with pictures of Legionnaires. On the coffee table were old copies of Kepi Blanc, the Legion magazine. On the wall was a glass display case with diagrams of the process of going from a "Candidat" to an "Engage Volontaire" -- the Selection procedure. It was in French. My African cohort helped me out with understanding it. It basically said what I had read before: that selection could last up to a month and that basic training immediately followed selection and lasted four months. After a while of waiting in this room, another Legionnaire (a Caporal Chef) showed up and motioned for me to follow him. The other guy was to remain in the room. I followed the Caporal Chef to another room.

I had read about this initial "interview" during my research. It turned out that my interviewer (the Caporal Chef), did not speak English (I later found out that he was from somewhere in South America). He asked me if I spoke English and I said yes. He then walked out of the room, across the hall to another room, yelled something in French, and then came back with a little African guy in a blue jumpsuit. The African guy spoke English and acted as a translator. I was ordered to strip down to my underwear and dump my things on a table. The African was then dismissed as the Caporal Chef sifted through my things, retrieving my watch, wallet, and papers. He indicated that I should put on a blue jumpsuit, which I quickly did. He sat down across a table from me and asked me some simple things in French. For those questions that I did not understand, he shoved a piece of paper in front of me with the questions written in English and pointed to the particular question. As I answered, He wrote things down on a piece of paper. He asked me things like where I came from, why I was in France, why I wanted to join the Legion, who to contact in case of emergency, how I found the address of this recruiting center, what my occupation was, etc... Some of these things I had to write the answer to myself (in English) on the paper. He sifted through my papers and started taking an inventory of things that I had brought: how much money I had, what cards were in my wallet, what papers I had. He also threw away some of my papers (like my RER map that I printed out from the web). He looked at my return trip plane ticket and I explained to him (in broken French) that it was for returning to the US. He took an inventory of my things (clothing in my backpack, toilet items). He then gave me the vision test. I had to stand at one end of the room and read aloud letters from a typical vision test alphabet diagram on the opposite wall. I had to cover each eye and read aloud. I pronounced the letters the French way. I was glad that I got that LASIK surgery. After the test, he told me to put on a blue jumpsuit. I had to sign some piece of paper that looked like a contract binding me to the Legion. He stuffed my money back in my wallet and threw it back at me. He kept all the cards that were in my wallet, my plane ticket and other papers. He did NOT withold any of my money. I got to keep all of my clothes, which I had to quickly stuff back into my bag. He yelled across the hall again and the little African came running in again. My translator then escorted me out of the room and showed me where the bathroom and showers were and brought me to a room with a bunch of bunkbeds. He told me to put my bag in a locker in that room (with no lock) and assigned me a bed. Then he took me to a room where all of the other guys in green and blue jumpsuits were lounging, smoking cigarettes and watching TV. I was accpeted into the Selection process. I never saw the African who was waiting with me at the guardhouse again.

I arrived at Fort de Nogent in the afternoon on Monday and was on my way to Aubagne on Wednesday. Some of the other guys there had been there for a week before I even got there. There were guys from all over the world. There were a bunch of guys from the former Soviet republics, Eastern europeans, a German, a Swede, a whole bunch of francophonic Africans (everything from North to South Africans), a Korean, a Belgian, some Frenchmen and then there was me, the only American. There were two groups of people: the green jumpsuits and the blue jumpsuits. The green jumpsuits had been there longer, and were on their way to Aubagne later that evening. My fellow blue jumpsuits and I would not go until Wednesday evening, but we wouldn't know that for sure until Wednesday. The green suits later changed out of their jumpsuits and back into their civilian attire prior to going. In what seemed to be a symbolic gesture, the Caporal Chef made them clean the facility one more time (in their civilian clothes) before they were put on the bus. The whole group of green suits was probably about 15 guys. The group of the blue suits was about the same. Life at the Fort was pretty simple. We got up at about 5:00am (I think -- I am forgetting now). We went to bed at 10:00pm (I think). We were periodically throughout the day broken up into teams and had cleaning duties. Everything from the hallway floors, to the bedroom, to the toilets and showers had to be cleaned. We cleaned these same things multiple times in the same day (ie: cleaning the toilets three or four times a day). All without soap -- just water and sponges, towels and squeegees. When we weren't cleaning, we were sitting in that lounge room with the TV. The TV didn't have anything interesting on -- just a TV station that ran re-runs of crappy American TV shows overdubbed in French -- or we watched a video tape about the Legion that was recorded in practically every conceivable language. The tape was a documentary which was far from a typical recruiting video. The general purpose of the video was to acquaint the candidate with the Selection process and the Legion. A great underlying theme was that you should know what you are getting into -- that the Legion is not all guts and glory. There were quite a few scenes of recent UN peacekeeping missions where they were carrying away dead bodies -- and showed charred hulks of KO'd UN armored vehicles. What we pretty much did with all of our non-cleaning waking time was sit in the room and talk with each other. It was a very rewarding experience for me to just sit in that room and talk with all of these guys from all over the world -- to find out just how bad things were where they came from. I also got to use my limited French a lot here and it improved dramatically. Each day, about four guys were taken from the group and assigned to Kitchen duty. On one of the days that I was there, I was assigned to Kitchen duty. We started early in the morning by having to clean the guardhouse. Then we ate breakfast by ourselves (after the rest of our group had already eaten and gone back to the barracks). Then we had to clean the dining area and wash the dishes from breakfast. After washing the dishes, we had to clean the dishwashing area. Almost immediately after finishing cleaning the dishwashing area, it was time to prepare for lunch. We prepared the dining area for lunch as well as assisting the cooks with the meal. Seemingly with no rest in between, people came in for lunch. We had to serve the food to our comrades, then were able to sit and eat lunch with them. Then we stopped, the main group left, and the kitchen crew had to begin cleaning up after lunch. Just like after breakfast, it was the same deal: wash dishes, clean the dishwashing area, then immediately prepare for dinner. After dinner, the same thing over again. After cleaning up after dinner, a Legionnaire who had been instructing us in the kitchen took us back to the barracks. When working kitchen crew, there was essentially no rest time -- it was a day of constant work. It was good to work the kitchen crew, though, because we got to drink as much free soda as we wanted (as opposed to drinking water out of a tap, which we had to do normally -- or paying for soda out of a soda machine in the lounge). We also got to use a "real" toilet (one with a bowl and seat). I think most middle-class Americans are not used to the types of toilets that we had to use on a normal basis. They consist of something that resembles a shower stall, but with a huge hole in the center and two ceramic "starting blocks" for your feet. You just squat over the hole and take a shit, and then push a button on a vertical pipe which releases a violent spray of water around the floor of the stall. The whole time I was at the Fort I couldn't take a shit -- I think because I had psychological blocks about using that toilet. While at the Fort, we had to wear the same jumpsuit the whole time. A good thing about its design is that the fabric it is made of dries very quickly. We took showers each night, but were responsible for our own toilet items (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, razors, shaving cream, etc...) The Caporal Chef did, however, give soap to those who had none. We had to wash our clothes whenever we could (usually while the four shower stalls were full and we had to just wait) and in the sinks by hand, then drip dry them on one of a few laundry lines in the shower room. It seemed there was never enough time to take a shower, so the 1-minute showers that I had learned to take in military school came in handy.

Some time while I was at the Fort, the whole lot of us (blue suits) were told to take a shower in the middle of the day and then placed on a bus. We were taken to a military base somewhere else in Paris where we were each interviewed by a doctor. When I got to see the doctor, she seemed quite apathetic and disinterested. She asked me if I had any medical problems. I said no, but I said I had "hay fever" -- where I sneeze because of pollen. She seemed to not want to examine me, but felt that she had to. She made me sit on a examination bed, take my shirt off, then placed a stethoscope on my chest and back and asked me to breathe deeply. After a very cursory examination, she said "okay" and dismissed me.

When it came time for us to leave the Fort (when there were enough of us and we had been through our preliminary medical exam), we showered and dressed in our civilian clothes (everybody was happy to get out of those blue jumpsuits which were beginning to stink). Then we had our turn having to do a final cleaning while in our civilian clothes. Part of this involved dragging our mattresses down the stairs where they were laid out on the tarmac and sprayed with insecticide (I actually saw a few ticks crawling out of the mattresses). Then we had to haul them back up the stairs. We were placed on a bus and taken to a large train station in Paris (I think it was Gare de Lyon) on Wednesday evening. I had read about this train trip before coming to Paris -- it had been described as being a bad trip where you were treated "like prisoners" and escorted "under guard". It WAS a bad trip, but not because of how the Legion treated us (I'll describe later why it was bad). I would describe it as more like a field trip with a Caporal Chef and Caporal as chaperones. There was another Legionnaire who was dressed in plain clothes who seemed to be "along for the ride". We rode on an overnight train to Marseille that stopped many times along the way. We had our own seats, but had to share the car with tourists and local commuters. The Caporal Chef indicated that we were not allowed to leave the car and had to ask permission to go to the bathroom (just to let him know where we were). It seemed kind of wierd to me because both the Caporal Chef and Caporal stripped down in plain view at their seats out of their tenues des sorties and changed into T-shirts and sweatpants (I thought they weren't supposed to do that in public). They would later change back to their more formal uniforms before departing the train (again, changing in their seats). The train ride was bad because I couldn't get any sleep. People took their dogs onto the train and they were barking. Some asshole started shouting to his buddy at the other end of the car sometime during the wee hours. The repeated stops would jarr me awake. People shuffling down the aisle would bump into you and wake you up. And then there was the interruption by the conductor, who suddenly turned on the lights in the middle of the night and walked up and down the car checking tickets (of course, the Caporal Chef took care of us). When we arrived in Marseille, the sun was already up. We exited the train and made our way to another platform where we boarded a double-decker local commuter train to Aubagne. When we arrived in Aubagne, a bus was waiting to take us to Quartier Vienot, the HQ of the Legion and home of 1er REI.

The first thing we did at Aubagne was get our pictures taken. They resembled prisoner mug shots. Afterwards, we were marched a short ways to a small white building which would be our home until either going to basic training or being dismissed (aka "civile"). We walked around to a side door to the basement where we met a sadistic Caporal who would be with us the whole time we were there. He very quickly introduced us to the Legion words for stand up ("haut" -- pronounced "ah-ooh") and sit down ("en bas" -- pronounced "ohngh baah") by making us do so over and over and over again in very quick succession. We then had to strip down (including our underwear) to naked. They issued us underwear, shorts, a T-shirt, socks and a really crappy pair of flat-soled zero-support zero-cushioning 1970's style tennis shoes (more about these shoes later). Our names were then called one by one and we had to run up to a counter with our bag (filled with the clothes we had just gotten out of) where a Caporal Chef took inventory of what we had. While standing there waiting as the Caporal Chef sifted through the stuff, the Caporal made the person waiting drop and do push-ups until the Caporal Chef was done taking inventory. While I was busy doing my push-ups, a fellow Candidat d'Engage Volontaire ("CEV") who had been at Aubagne before my group arrived was stuffing a select group of my things into a military backpack for me. When they told me to stop and stand up, I had to sign the inventory and then grab the military backpack and run around to the other side of the counter and sit down and wait with guys who had gone before me. While waiting there, the sadistic Caporal made us do the stand up and sit down drill over and over again. After everyone was done getting processed, the sadistic Caporal explained the rules to us (in French) with accompanying gesturing for emphasis. He was the boss. He's the Legionnaire. We want to be like him. We don't talk. We do what he says. The only place where you can talk and do what you want is in the back of the building. There, he said, we could talk, smoke, snort our cocaine if we wanted. He strongly recommended, however, that we spend our time running and doing push-ups. He said that in basic training there will be many push-ups. We were later shown to our room where we were assigned our bunks.

We woke up at somewhere around 3:30 - 4:00 am every day and were supposed to go to sleep at around 9:00 pm (you usually could not go to sleep until a couple of hours after 9:00 because the assholes in your room would keep talking). We took showers before going to bed, and it was the same deal as like in Paris -- not enough time and a whole lot of guys scrambling for a few showers. The guys who got to the showers first tended to take their sweet time and the guys stuck at the end would have to rush. We had to clean our room everyday and fold our sheets a certain way immediately after waking up, and make the bed a certain way immediately before going to bed. When not on a work detail or taking a test, we sat in a large "garden" behind the building that was devoid of grass. There, people tended to group together by language / ethnic background and talk with each other. There were probably over 100 guys there all the time. People seemed to disappear everyday, yet new faces appeared to replace them. Some people exercised, but most just sat around smoking and talking. There was a klaxon (air raid siren) mounted to the roof of the building at the rear. When it went off, all the CEVs in the "garden" would take off running -- just like a stampede -- towards the front of the building where there was a large tarmac that served as a formation area. We would have to quickly get into a block formation and stand at attention (known as "gardez-vous"). When in formation, we would be split up to handle work details, or take tests, or go eat a meal, or be yelled at for something, or made to do push-ups, situps, roll-over, or other punitive exercises. Many times, we would get called to the formation, then have to walk around the building en masse and pick up "debris" (cigarette butts, trash, sometimes rocks, leaves, etc...). Sometimes we would have to go "weed the cannal" next to the building. Mainly, picking up debris and weeding the cannal were just busy work for us. Work details included cleaning our barracks, doing kitchen duty in one of several kitchens: either the main kitchen, a satellite kitchen elsewhere in the base, at Malmousque -- the Legion resort, or at the Legion retirement home. There were also non-kitchen work details at these locations as well as "debris" collection elsewhere in the base. I wound up doing kitchen duty in the main kitchen a lot, mainly because I happened to be around after a meal when the mess hall ("salles de manger") Caporal was looking for people to do kitchen duty. I really didn't mind because I found that, generally, the Legionnaires that worked in the kitchens were really cool guys who were [usually] pretty laid back. A major problem that develops at Aubagne is dehydration. It is very hard to stay adequately hydrated because you always have to drink from a tap and access to the interrior of the building is restricted (even to go to the toilet).

There are 4 major types of tests: Psychotechnical, Medical, Physical and the "Gestapo" Interviews. I read a lot of stuff about these tests before going to France and found a whole lot of it to be untrue. The tests do not necessarily occur in this order, but the Gestapo interviews are usually last.

This is a barrage of 5 different types of written tests. I'll list the tests in the order (as I remember) that I took them, but they will not necessarily occur in this order. All tests with questions are given in written form in a language that you can understand (albeit a bad translation): 1. Yes/No Questions like: "Do you feel sad for no reason sometimes?" "Would you rather play than work?" "Do you like to be around people or be by yourself?" "Are you a violent person?" You get asked these questions in at least two different tests -- the same questions asked different ways in a different order (presumably to catch you when you answer the same question differently on two different tests). 2. A drawing test where you are supposed to draw a zig-zag line, a wavy line, draw a tree, connect dots, etc... 3. A pattern matching test. You are given a couple of characters to mark on a matrix of hundreds of characters. You get pages and pages of these matrices and you have to go through them as many as you can as fast as you can. 4. A memory test: You are given a crude street map with certain locations marked and named specifically (the names are in French). You are given something like 5 minutes to "memorize the map". You are not told what exactly to memorize (locations? Names? Locations and names?). The map is taken from you and you are given a clean map (no locations marked on it) and a list of things to locate on the map. The list is in a language that you can understand (English for me), and lists some things with general names (like "gas station"). You have to mark them precisely on the map with the number that is next to the list item. You have 5 or 10 minutes to do this (I can't remember how much time exactly). 5. A mechanical aptitude test: Count blocks in a 3-dimensional drawing of a stack of blocks, say which way a gear will turn in a system of rotating gears, say where a rope needs to be attached to a boat in order to pull it straight down a river, what is the best way to hold a hammer when striking a nail, analyze pulley systems for effect and efficiency, etc...

This consists of three separate interviews. The first interview is a piss test (with litmus paper dip) and an interrogation as to how much and what type of exercise you do and have recently done (what sports you are engaged in, how often, etc...). The second interview is an appraisal of your physique and an interrogation into what types of medical problems you have and why you want to join the Legion. The first two interviews are handled by an enlisted Legionnaire (a Caporal for me). The third interview is handled by the doctor, who, for me, was a Capitaine. He asked me why I wanted to join the Legion. He asked me why I didn't want to join the US Armed Forces. He asked me about my medical history. He did the typical bodily examination of looking in my eyes, nose, mouth, ears, listening to me breathe via a stethoscope, and then also did the feel your testicles thing. It was not as comprehensive or scary as I was led to believe that it was -- there was no blood work -- no real urinalysis (aside from the litmus paper -- the urine sample was disposed of immediately after the litmus dip) -- no allergy testing -- no color blindness testing -- no cataracht or degenerative eye disease testing -- no throat cultures or such things -- no stool sample --- on and on about things that it wasn't but could have been. Relatively speaking -- it was nothing.

So much has been speculated about the physical test. In actuality, it is one thing and one thing alone: run 7 laps around a 400m track in 12 minutes. I had heard that they might accept 6.5 laps in 12 minutes -- provided you were desirable for other reasons. Anything less than 6.5 is probably a failure -- and a failure here definitely means "civile" for you. The test starts with a group of you getting called out of formation after the siren. The group of you go down to the basement of the home barracks and put on different shirts and are given track number jerseys to put on over the shirts. You then have something like 5 minutes to run and drink water. Then the group of you form up (in two columns) behind some Legionnaire whom you've never seen before who isn't wearing any rank (but I've heard is an officer) with a Caporal taking up the rear and run a few km (mostly downhill) to a nearby public track and field stadium. This run is not very far or very fast, but will tire you if you are not in shape or are dehydrated (as I was). Once you get there, you have maybe 1 minute to catch your breath before you line up and they say go. You just run as best as you can, and when 12 minutes are up, they blow a whistle and you have to stop exactly where you are. They then log how far you went and you all gather at the starting line. They ask if anyone is experiencing any medical problems after the run, and if there are none, you all form up again and run back to the base (uphill). Upon arrival, you take a shower and return to the back area to chat with your fellow CEVs. If you fail this test, chances are, you will be kicked out that day.

There are three "Gestapo" interviews. I didn't actually get to do them (I failed my Physical), but I spoke with some guys who did. They said it was basically the same sort of questions like on the Yes/No test of the Psychotechnical set as well as some "interview-type" questions like "why do you want to join the Legion?" and "what do you want to do in the Legion?" Again, they will ask you the same questions in the three interviews, probably to catch you if you answer differently. I heard that these interviews are carried out by Adjutant and above, and are handled in a "good cop / bad cop" manner.

Tests are not done during the weekend (Saturday and Sunday). After you complete all of these tests, you are in a set of people from which they take the top slice (which tends to be somewhere from 7-12 people) and send the rest home. This small final set then gets to visit the Legion museum and is offered the actual contract to sign. They are asked one last time if they wish to change their minds before signing the contract. After signing, they are taken to the barber and get their heads shaved, then have all of their civilian belongings taken from them and are issued their equipment for basic training. This group of individuals is called "rouge". They will hang around for a day or so, acting as the bosses for the CEVs, before departing in the wee hours of the morning at some point for Castelnaudary. People are removed because of the testing process very quickly. I ran into a guy on Thursday when I arrived at Aubagne who was one of the green jumpsuit guys that I met at Fort de Nogent (the group that departed on Monday evening). He was the last one left out of that entire group.

The siren goes off and the stampede runs for the formation area. Names get called out and you form a line at the front of the formation. A Caporal is there with a clip board and makes you sign your name. You know what this is about, even though they never tell you directly. The thing you sign is some kind of release for transportation (I caught a glimpse). The group of you is then dispatched to get your backpack and belongings from your room. You then go to the basement where you are given back your things that they witheld from you and you change back into your civilian clothes. They take back the shirts, shorts and backpack from you and "give" you the underwear, socks, shoes and towels, which you promptly throw away into the garbage can there. You line up outside a room in the basement, somebody calls your name, you go into the room and find a Legionnaire sitting at a desk who makes you sign a series of papers. Like all the other documents that you have signed for the Legion since day 1, you sign the papers without reading them or knowing what they are about. One of the papers is given to you. The group of you collect outside the basement and read your papers. The paper is a "receipt" of your time in the Legion. It explains your status as either INAPT TEMPORAIRE or INAPT DEFINITIF (inapt temporarily or inapt definitively). If definitive, you are not allowed to return to the Legion. If temporary, you are told a time period in months after which you are allowed to retry enlistment. I believe that some peoples' papers indicated the reason for their classification -- mine did not. The minimum return time for the temporary classification is 3 months and can go as much as a year (maybe more). These papers are in French. Another thing they give you is a train ticket back to where you came from (if you actually went to a recruiting depot other than Marseille or Aubagne). It is good for any train travelling that day. One of the things they give back to you is a little packet which is filled with things that they took from you like my credit cards, ID cards, plane ticket, papers and passport. A Caporal comes and collects the group of you (some of whom are getting very unruly) and takes you to a cashier who gives you money for your time in the Legion. I can't remember exactly how much it was, but I think it was something like 150FF per day. You all then get on a bus and are taken to the train station in Marseille. They drop you off there and let you do whatever you want.

I wore leather dress shoes when I went to join-up. As a result, they took these from me at Aubagne and issued me a pair of really crappy flat-soled cushionless tennis shoes. Most people had these shoes on, but some (who were wearing athletic shoes and perhaps had odd sizes) did not. EVERYONE that wore these shoes complained about them. These are the same shoes that we had to do the Physical Test in. After less than 1 week in these shoes, my feet were hurting so much that I could barely stand up. It took me almost 2 months after I got kicked out for my feet to stop hurting.

  1. Take toilet items (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, toilet paper, razor, shaving cream) -- you will need them at the recruiting depot since these things are not necessarily provided for you.
  2. Wear rubber-soled athletic shoes. You will be in these shoes the entire time you are at the recruiting depot -- when you are cleaning kitchens and bathrooms, they are appropriate footwear (as opposed to the leather dress shoes I was wearing). You will also have a higher probability of not having to wear the crappy shoes that they issue you in Aubagne.
  3. Get a haircut. People had advised me against getting a "buzz job" haircut before going there, saying that I would be the object of abuse because of it. In fact, many people had such a haircut and they were not abused. It is much more manageable to not have hair in that situation, primarily because you can shower faster without having to worry about washing your hair (of course, if it doesn't bother you to have long hair, then so be it).
  4. Shave. Do not have a moustache or beard. They will make you shave it off in Aubagne -- and you will have to do laps around the building and push-ups as punishment to make sure you know that you are not supposed to have it. You also have to shave every day in Aubagne (they take your razor and give you disposable razors that you should NOT throw away -- since you have few of them and they have to last you the entire time that you are there). The sadistic Caporal at Aubagne liked to have shaving inspections by flashlight at 5:00 am.
  5. Learn to take a 1-minute shower. Learn to eat fast. Learn to do everything fast. Time is something that you may find that you have a limited amount of -- just because the assholes who beat you to something (like the shower) decide to take their time and leave you with none.
  6. Learn to survive for a month on 1 roll of toilet paper. For some people, this is a problem (like me). You are issued 1 roll of toilet paper which is supposed to last you the entire time you are there.
  7. Learn French. Everyone says this and it is entirely true. Whatever French you learn in advance will pay off tenfold.
  8. Look respectable. I saw people who really looked like the dregs of the earth who got picked on by Legionnaires because of it.
  9. Prepare physically by doing lots of push-ups and running. There were people there who could barely even do 10 push-ups. I couldn't believe it! Also be able to run when dehydrated. Be able to stay in the "front leaning rest" (the up position of push-ups) for extended periods of time.
  10. Be able to yell "like a man". It sounds silly, but at Aubagne, we were supposed to yell "Oui Caporal!" and "Present Caporal!" as loud as possible. The sadistic Caporal emphasized the veins coming out of your neck. He said is was the "war cry". He picked on people who were meek about it or yelled in high-pitched voices.
  11. Learn the ranks and how to recognize them by their uniform insignia (it just makes dealing with the Legionnaires easier).
  12. Have lots of coin money on hand if you go to Fort de Nogent. The drink machine only takes coins and the Legionnaires will not make change for you. Don't make change for others unless you don't want to have any yourself for the drink machine.
  13. Whenever you go to the dining hall at Aubagne, always stuff a bunch of paper napkins into your pockets -- you never know when you might need them (like for the shitter). You may be allowed to go to the toilet but not to go to your room (to get your toilet paper). The toilets do not have toilet paper in the stalls.
  14. Make sure when they issue you your toilet items in Aubagne that you have everything. They let me keep my bag of toilet items, but they took my razor (and didn't tell me). When it came time for people to get their toilet items, I didn't get a bag because I already had mine. Luckily, I noticed that I didn't have my razor so they gave me a bag of toilet items.
  15. Use the cap from the shaving cream that they give you as a cup. It makes it far easier to drink water from a tap and thus stay hydrated (I found this out too late).

Although many doubt me when I say this, but I actually chose to leave the Legion selection. I intentionally failed my Physical test by running under 6 laps (although I was dead tired due to dehydration and fell out of formation on the run back to the base). I had actually decided that the Legion was not the right place for me when I was at Fort de Nogent. After spending a couple of days talking with people who really came from unfortunate and destitute situations, I came to realize that I was really a very fotunate and rich man back in the US. I took for granted my cushy job, my inflated salary, my carefree lifestyle, my car, my apartment, my loving family and friends. When they told me about how bad things were in Russia, in Romania, in parts of Africa -- and then asked me about what my life was like back in the USA, I could not feel anything but utter shame for myself. For them, the Legion represented hope for a better way of life, for more money, for a chance to get free of their desperate situations. For me, it was a worse life that paid vastly less than my job in the US. When they asked me in stunned surprise why I would want to join the Legion -- I was at a loss for an explanation. As I have said now many times after having had this experience: it is one thing to know that there are people in the world worse off than you -- and it is another thing entirely to meet them face-to-face.

On an interesting note, since I had already decided to quit (via failing a test and getting kicked-out) before I even got to Aubagne, I decided to fail the Medical test. It seemed to me that that would be the easiest, most "honorable" and fastest way of getting kicked-out. I have many medical problems that have kept me out of the US Armed Forces -- which I was going to not let the Legion know about -- namely a history of Asthma and numerous allergies to very common things (dust, pollen, cats and dogs, penecillin). My asthma is no longer a problem for me, but the mere fact that I have a history of it has barred me from the US military. I figured the easiest way to bomb my medical test in the Legion was to tell the doctor all about these things -- so I did. I had my medical test on a Friday. I figured I would get kicked out on Monday morning (after finding out, to my dismay, that they don't kick people out on the weekends). Instead, they vaccinated me and scheduled me for the Physical test. I wound up having to bomb my Physical test and they kicked me out that day. I know that the Medical was not a problem, because my classification was INAPT TEMPORAIRE for a period of 3 months. In contrast to my comrades who got kicked out with me, I was quite overjoyed to be kicked-out, and quite honored to be classified as INAPT TEMPORAIRE for the minimum time period. It told me that even with all of my medical problems, if I had made the run, I probably had a good chance of making "rouge". That was quite an honor.

Overall, it was a very rewarding and educational experience. One which I do not regret ever having undertaken, nor all the time, effort and money that I had invested in it. I believe that the returns that I received from it were of an incalculable value, a value of which the investment can not even begin to come close to matching. It would have been nice to wear the white kepi, but some things are just not meant to be.