From jungle to desert part 1 by thadeusz
I was born in Paris. I lived there with my parents: my father was a high school teacher and my mother was a nurse. My name is Pierre, Pierre Delfaille. My brother and my sister, who were twins, suddenly barged into my life when I was 6. Nevertheless I learned to love them. My mother stopped working to care of the three of us. She took especially good care of our hair: mine was blond and my haircut looked like that of little Lord Fauntleroy, which was ridiculous but my mother liked it.
When I reached 10, for my birthday, I received my first camera. I loved it and started to make pictures of everything: my relatives, people in the streets but also the quays along the Seine where Mother took us often for a walk.
The fact that Mother did not work anymore created some financial problems and Father applied for a teacher position in a high school in Cayenne, in French Guiana. He got it and we moved there when I was 11. The new job was interesting, he was now teaching to students who had finished high school and obtained their "Baccalauréat”, their diploma: his students were getting ready for the "Big Schools”. It was no longer a simple teacher's job but that of a real Junior College professor. His pay was much better and life became much easier for the whole family.
Father was very proud of his new job and he expected me to learn well in Middle School in order to be admitted to his High School, the best of the city, and be able to go on to Junior College with him.
Unluckily for him, Cayenne, my new city, was full of opportunities for a boy and later a teenager. When time came for me to go to Middle School, I was sent to the best one of the city but I did not study. I went swimming in the ocean with my friends and I spent hours strolling through the streets with my camera, my passion. I took all kind of pictures and I really loved those which enabled me to make nice presentations of my new town. I liked that town: the weather was hot and humid, but not excessively so. The city was fairly close to the jungle, called here "the Selva”, full of intriguing plants and animals. Unluckily I was not allowed to go and walk alone through the Selva.
Further North was Kourou, with its space center and the French Foreign Legion guarding it. But we never went there and I regretted that.
While I was in Middle School, I had very long hair, going down to my shoulders, and I spent a lot of time combing them and arranging them in order to have curls at the end of my hairs, but not higher on my head. In my mind. I believed that these curls were helping me to get girlfriends. Especially the curls I carefully organized on my forehead. As a matter of fact, according to what my relatives said, I was a good looking boy, intelligent but very lazy as far as my studies were concerned: this left me with lots of free time for my hair and my strolls, but it despaired my father, as a teacher. The main thing was that I was living in a very free city and I had a lot of free time. I had thus no problem finding tons of girlfriends!
My 9th grade, the last of my Middle School, was really dreadful and my parents decided to make me repeat it: it was that or going to a low level vocational school where I would only be able to get a CAP, i.e. a "certificate of professional aptitude” without the possibility to ever have my Baccalaureat, my BAC, which was unthinkable for Father. At the end of my second 9th grade, my grades were still very bad and my school file, which follows us in France from 1st to 12th grade, was also bad. The only thing that could be offered to me was a vocational school, but a good one enabling me to have a BAC in the future. It would only be a professional BAC, but it would be a good version of that famous French "BAC”. I had hoped that I could follow a trend leading me to photography and filmmaking (I knew nothing about that technique), but that was not available in the school chosen by my parents. So I chose to prepare for a BAC in "Electronic and Numeric Systems”, hoping it would help me for my passion: photos and possibly videos in the future. I had one year delay and was thus 16 while all my new classmates were only 15, but I did not mind as long as I could keep going out with girls and take pictures. I also loved transforming the pictures on my computer using the information gathered during my courses on Numeric Systems.
Contrarily to what Father and Mother expected, I liked what I learned in my vocational school. I worked hard to learn my lessons and I always did my homework: it was a great change. One of my preferred courses was "Numeric signals” because there I learned a lot about my photo camera. The school required me to get a work experience, to spend at least two month doing an on-the-job-training. My professor of "Numeric signals” had what appeared to be an excellent idea, combining the school requirements with my passion. He suggested that I would spend two months taking pictures and learning to make films in the jungle. The pictures should be pictures of places, of plants and animals, but there should also be short movies of indian natives living far away along the rivers of Guiana. In order to realize this, my professor suggested that I should go during two months with a group of legionnaires in the jungle. He said that they go anyway for long periods in the jungle and that they do nothing intellectual.
"In any case”, he told my father, "we could ask them: they might be willing to take Pierre with them, just for the pictures, and it would cost you nothing.”
Father did not like the idea, but I did. So I insisted. And so did my professor. Finally Father and Mother agreed and my school sent a request to that effect addressed to the General commanding the whole Legion, in Aubagne, in France. Mother convinced Father that if I was accepted for that work experience, during the school holidays, they would go, the parents and the twins, and visit relatives in France.
The Legion replied rather rapidly to my school and said that they accepted me for an "on-the-job-training”, provided certain conditions were respected. First I would mount my photos and videos according to their instructions, these photos and videos would be made using their material only and it would be their property for whatever purposes they thought fit. Secondly, for insurance reasons I would have to sign a "temporary contract” with the legion, and my parents would have to provide the Legion with a written parental consent. Thirdly, I would have to be at least 17 before the whole thing could start. Father did not like it, especially the "temporary contract” business, but I liked the whole idea and I succeeded to convince him to give his consent. The fact that for a "temporary contract” they only required that I be 17 was great, because that way I could start immediately after my birthday, which is June 26, and my "on-the-job-training” would take place during the school holidays. I would thus have an advantage compared to my classmates who would only start their project on September 15, when I would already have finished mine. Another advantage would be the fact that, with the help of the Legion, I would learn to make videos and documentaries. Finally, I liked the idea of staying with the Legion during two months.
An agreement had been reached about the program of my stay: first learn rapidly to use the Legion material, then join a group of legionnaires, called "a detachment”, going by boat as observers. We would first go to a lake, then along a river in the Selva, the Jungle, meet indian natives and interview them. The idea was to bring a special attention to their old and ancestral traditions and the way they lived. Finally we were supposed to come back by truck as soon as possible. The stay on the boat and in the Selva itself was supposed to last 6 weeks. I would then have two more weeks in Kourou to finalize my documents under the supervision of a Legion specialist. This made a total of 2 months and enabled me to be back in Cayenne, project finished, just before the school year started.
An appointment was made for june 28. On that day, beginning of the holidays, Father drove us all from Cayenne to Kourou, which is about a good hour drive. I had a jean and a tee-shirt, and just a little bag with my other clothes: the cameras would be given at the Legion barracks, and so would be more adapted jungle clothes. When we arrived to the Legion barracks in Kourou, we were led by a man, whom I learned to know as Captain Mareuil, to the Colonel's office. The Colonel was the big boss of the Legion in Guiana. At first he smiled, let me sign my "temporary contract” and received my parents' "parental consent”. Everything changed when Father started to ask questions. He knew that the Legion in Guiana did a dangerous job: they were among other things chasing the poachers and the illegal Brazilian gold panners. Father wanted to know if his precious son (me !) would be protected against the dangers associated to these activities. He also wanted to know if I would have my own room, considering that I was just 17 and also considering the legionnaires' reputation. The Colonel became very read in the face and replied, obviously furious against Father, and thus also against me:
"Sir, you must know that I am not in favor of this operation. But the General has given his agreement and he has also given me an order, so I will faithfully execute that order. Now you must realize that the Legion does not have the vocation to be a nanny for teenagers. If your son wanted a five stars hotels, he should have chosen something else: this baby of yours will stay with grown up legionnaires in a boat or in a tent. And that is already very kind of the Legion for him. If this young man wants to know more about the life inside the Legion, he could do much better: sign a full five years contract.”
The Colonel turned himself towards Captain Mareuil, who was still present, and shouted more than he spoke to him:
"Mareuil, take this boy with you. Give him an adapted uniform, but not a full one: he is not a legionnaire. Make also sure that his hair will not get caught by branches, his daddy is anxious! NOW! And fast!”
Mareuil led me and my relatives out of the Colonel's office, explaining to my father that his questions came really at the wrong moment, there were many problems precisely with poachers and illegal gold panners. So he suggested that Father, Mother and the twins left the barracks as soon as possible. My little brother wanted to stay to see me in uniform, but I wanted to get rid of all of them and live a young adult's adventure. So I told my brother:
"Go quickly now, I'll see you in 6 weeks or in 2 months latest”
In 2 months latest ! That is what I told him before I left my dear little brother !
"Anyway”, added Captain Mareuil and addressing himself to Father, "considering the mood into which you put the Colonel, it seems much better that you leave immediately”.
I said goodbye to my parents, already thinking of my two months of adventures, and the whole family left.
Captain Mareuil took me to Sergeant Ruwart, a kind looking man with a strong German accent. He repeated the Colonel's order: that's how it works in the Legion, and in any Army I imagine. SGT Ruwart took me to the Clothing Warehouse and when we came out I was wearing the usual Legion BDU, adapted to a hot and humid climate like the one we have in Guiana. I was also wearing a jungle hat and I had a solid pair of shoes. Everything was Legion like, including my green socks! I felt great wearing these adult clothes! SGT Ruwart told me that I had not received the usual green beret since I was going immediately to the jungle, and also that I had not received the clothes legionnaires wear when they are allowed to leave the barracks. He explained all that very calmly, in such a way that I did not realize that we had reached the barber's door. SGT Ruwart was a very able talker but I tried to be one also. I explained that my hair was sacred for me, then that I had let it grow to capture girls and show how manly I was, etc.
But the SGT replied that I really needed this haircut in order to avoid problems in the Jungle: otherwise my long hair would be "captured” by the low branches and make me prisoner. He added that girls would view a slightly shorter haircut as an even stronger sign of virility. Finally he added that it was a Colonel's order and that if I did not want to abide by that order, I might as well go home immediately, but he kept claiming that long hair was a danger in the jungle. So I accepted a small cut of my long hair.
Later I discovered, while filming indian natives, that they lived in the jungle and that they had long hair AND many girls. The only real argument was thus the obedience to the Colonel's order!
The barber was a Master Corporal who told me that he was in the Legion since many years and did not intend to leave. In fact he was very talkative and tried to distract my attention from my haircut. After a long negotiation we finally agreed: he would cut my hair shorter than they were, but he would not give me a buzz cut. The barber caped me. He then started with his scissors, explaining that he usually did not do it this way: he only used the clippers. He turned my head in all possible directions, from left to right, but he did not push it in order to make me bend my head. This reassured me slightly. I then heard the scissors cutting hair on my left side, and then on my right side. My long curls were gone, at least partially, on the sides. He then cut on my back, above my neck. Then suddenly he held my head firmly and I could feel his scissors cutting my hair on my forehead, first left and it fell down on my lap, then right. I quickly looked in the mirror: it was serious but not dramatic. The barber was not done yet. I suddenly felt the cold of the metal of the clippers on my neck, then on my left side around my ears, and then the same on my left side. And it was done! I looked and discovered another young man. I still had hair, but much less than before. No very long hair anymore, but still hair like a very classical and obedient teenager would have. I did not really like it, but I accepted it. Firstly because there was no way back, secondly because it was the only way I could go with the legionnaires on that expedition, and thirdly because I knew that after two months it would be much better. In any case, I still had some curls on my forehead, hopefully enough to catch girls.
After that, SGT Ruwart seemed to be satisfied with my transformation from wild teenager with long hair into a respectable trainee in the arts of the Legion. He thus took me to the building where his company had its rooms and showed me there a bed for the next night only: we were due to leave for the jungle on the next day. Finally, the SGT introduced me to the Lieutenant who was going to lead our expedition in the jungle. It was LT Prindel, a young and smiling officer who looked at me and said:
"So, that's the boy we are going to take with us as trainee photographer! Well, sergeant, he does not look too much like the dreadful boys I have seen in my high school!”
He then turned in my direction and added:
"I hope you feel comfortable with SGT Ruwart, he will be your mentor during your stay with us. He is an excellent photographer and will teach you how to make good videos.”
The LT then gave me a present, the knife legionnaires always have with them in Guiana. It was a beautiful knife, engraved with the flame of the Legion and the words "3ème Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie”, i.e. 3rd foreign infantry régiment. This knife was meant to help me cutting branches in the jungle whenever necessary, it was not meant to be used as a weapon, but it was a present for me "to keep”. I did not receive another weapon!
Finally the LT gave me a bag in which were all the objects I would have to use to take pictures and make videos. There was also a small computer with special editing software: I was supposed to edit all my pictures and movies on this small machine before leaving the legionnaires. The bag was a special one, protecting these objects from the dampness of the jungle. All these items were of coursed marked as belongings of the Legion!
The LT then told me to leave his office with SGT Ruwart and become very rapidly familiar with all these objects in order to be able to take pictures as soon as possible, and as early as the next day, since we were due to leave early on the next day, immediately after "l'appel”, the roll call which in the Legion takes place several times a day.
I spent the rest of the day working with the SGT and after a great night in the legionnaires room (including some time in their Company bar), I was ready to leave early for the Jungle. But, the day after there was a change. That morning, the detachment of LT Prindel was required to go and protect the space center. For the legionnaires it was good because it was a relatively light duty, but for me it was no fun. Luckily the LT left SGT Ruwart with me, in the barracks, and told me to go and speak with CPT Mareuil in order to call my parents.
The Captain told me that the expedition was delayed but not canceled. He insisted that I should call home and ask my parents to come and fetch me until the detachment was ready to leave for the jungle. I knew this might ruin my whole project and I felt it would be a good project, at least a project that would enlighten my holidays. So I pleaded and asked to be allowed to stay and wait for the detachment until it was ready to go. I explained:
"Captain, my parents had planned a trip to France and now they must already be gone. Is it really impossible for me to stay here and wait for LT Prindel ?”
This was a lie, my parents were due to leave later and they would have taken me with them if it was possible, but I felt well in my Legion BDU and also I did not want to give the impression that I came back early as a defeated youngster, after all I was nearly a man now that I was 17. I certainly did not want to go to Father and Mother as a loser, my tail between my legs!
CPT Mareuil promised to ask the Colonel, who agreed provided I signed an additional document entitled :
"I volunteer to participate to all Legion activities”.
So CPT Mareuil came back a little bit later and told me that I could stay and wait for the detachment, provided I signed this document. CPT Mareuil added that I could sign alone since my parents had already given their parental consent. I did not ask for more explanations and I quickly signed without really reading the document I had signed. The CPT congratulated me for this decision. He then added:
"You went to the barber who gave you a better, more adapted haircut. But you are now going to stay in the barracks, dressed as a real legionnaire, during several days, so I order you to go back to the barber and have a real legionnaire's haircut.”
I objected saying: "But Captain, I am not a legionnaire”
"You will in any case wear a legionnaire's uniform, in the barracks and in the town. I can not tolerate that you keep such a haircut. So you chose: either you go to the barber NOW, or you go home.”
"In that case I have no choice Captain, I will do as you instructed me to do.”
"Delfaille, it would even be better if you obeyed my orders without feeling compelled to comment them.”
The Captain then told SGT Ruwart to give me the additional pieces of uniform and the elements of kit which were necessary for a longer stay, but he ordered him to keep it to the bare minimum because, according to him, this additional stay would not be long.
I left the captain's office not liking what he was forcing me to do to my hair and I went with SGT Ruwart to the barber and the clothing room.
On the way, the SGT told me that he understood the Captain's point of view: with my still relatively long hair, I would give a false image of the legion. Even if I was not a legionnaire, the simple fact that I was going to stay in the barracks in legionnaire uniform would be misleading.
"In any case”, said SGT Ruwart, "it will not be an induction cut and after the end of our 6 weeks expedition, you will again have relatively long hair. Don't worry.”
So the SGT took me back to the barber. This time the barber was less talkative and more rapid. He caped me and then got hold of my head. He pushed it in order to let my chin touch my chest and started with his clippers on my neck. I could feel the cold of the metal even more than the day before, I hated it but I said nothing: this was the price I had to pay for my stay in the barracks. After my neck, the barber attacked the sides of my head and in order to do so he pushed, turned, pulled whatever served me as head before. I was shivering. In the end, he completely pulled my head back and started to place his clippers on the top of my head. I just had time enough to tell him:
"Don't make it too short on the top if you can.”
I was trembling and the barber was already busy with my poor hair.
When everything was done I had a good look at my new haircut. The barber had done a miracle. It was shorter than the previous one, but not drastically shorter despite all the shivering and trembling. The clippers had appeared cold, but the trimmer he had used was not the smallest one! I had now a real buzz cut, acceptable for a legionnaire (and thus for CPT Mareuil) but unluckily not for a teenager in my school. The only disadvantage was that the curls I had kept on my forehead were now gone. My hair would grow longer, but I knew there would be nasty comments in September when I went back to school. And I would need to wait even later than September before I could reorganize my nice "girl attracting” curls.
In order to console me, the SGT gave me a green Legion beret with the regiment insignia and told me to put it on my head. He had realized that I was afraid of my classmates comments and said:
"They will say whatever they want, in your school, but none of them will have his OWN green beret, with the insignia of the regiment in which you will have done some work.”
I also received other pieces of equipment, probably more than what the CPT intended, but enough to be now able to go out in the bars and look as if I were a real legionnaire. I suddenly felt very proud and very adult.
I spent the next days with SGT Ruwart, working on the project, learning to use the Legion photo and video material. I also discovered how to use a foot to stabilize my camera and get better results. The SGT also explained me how to edit my results. He did more: he taught me how to behave as a legionnaire, showing me how to salute, how to march the Legion way, how to introduce myself to a superior (especially an officer). I loved it. He also took me out through the streets and bars of Kourou, and that also gave me the impression that I was a grownup.
After a few days, CPT Mareuil came and inquired about what we were doing. He looked at my pictures. He said he liked them and he asked me whether I did not want to become a Legion photographer after my BAC: he was ready to help me getting in the Legion. But I told him that I really did not want a military career: I wanted to become a filmmaker.
After about 2 weeks, the detachment came back and we left Kourou on July 12, with 13 days delay! We immediately went to the jungle. The detachment comprised nearly 30 men: LT Prindel leading the detachment, SGT Ruwart and another SGT, several corporals and many legionnaires. We went on two boats. I kept taking pictures or films of the legionnaires at work and of the jungle. Every evening we stopped and the legionnaires mounted tents according to a very precise plan, according to Legion rule. These tents camps were always near the boats, along the river banks: they always had to be perfectly square camps. It was also nice for me to have nothing to do except to take pictures and get fed by the legionnaires. Whenever it was possible, we stopped in a village and I observed the indian natives, most of them speaking a reasonably good French. I asked them, according to the Lieutenant's instructions, to tell stories about the foundation of their village or about the legends of the jungle. I recorded all that in video with a good microphone.
We had been on our way for about 5 weeks and were already thinking of going back to Kourou, when the LT received a message. His detachment was urgently needed as reinforcement to help the Brazilian army in a fight against dangerous illegal gold panners. These men apparently were armed and were shooting dangerously. The LT took a rapid decision and gave me, SGT Ruwart and a legionnaire called Jaromil, orders in a tone of voice which did not admit any discussion:
"First you Pierre. I cannot send you immediately back to Kourou and I cannot take the risk to take you with me because of the shooting. So, I send you with SGT Ruwart and legionnaire Jaromil to an outpost near Camopi, near a big river. You will wait for us there and while you wait you can start your editing process, so you don't lose time.”
Then to SGT Ruwart:
"You will take Pierre and Jaromil with you and bring them, through the jungle to Camp Maric. You will not stop on the way, except for sleeping. Pierre will not take any picture anymore because I want him inside the outpost. As soon as you are there, you can send a message to Kourou saying where you are, who is with you and telling them that you are waiting for me. If needed Jaromil will bring me your messages by foot, but I don't want you to leave Pierre alone: he has to edit his pictures and videos inside the outpost and that's it.”
The LT gave then the order to all the others to follow him and go to the place where the reinforcement was needed. In 5 minutes, everything was packet and we, the three remaining ones, were also ready to leave. The SGT gave me the order (and it was clearly an order) to take the bag with my belongings on my back and the bag with the material used for pictures on my chest (he showed me how to carry two bags), he took also two bags and so did legionnaire Jaromil. We left in the direction of the outpost which we reached after two days of march, with a decent night of rest without tent. SGT Ruwart had decided to rest long enough to enable me, the only untrained one, to be ready for the next day of walk. In the outpost we were greeted by a Legion Chief Warrant Officer who was commanding the post since a long time, and who was used to see unannounced legionnaires arriving.
It is there that I did all the editing process, creating many documentaries. I worked relentlessly on my project. There remained only one thing to do: create the text. I tried for some, but when the SGT read my text, he said:
"Pierre, you did a good job with your pictures and videos, a real good job. But leave the texts to those who really know something about the Legion. You know nothing, or nearly nothing about us, so you cannot write texts which could be used as ads for the potential candidates.”
I thus realized what I had in fact created and I decided to leave the last steps to real specialist, not to a trainee like me. My hair was growing longer again, but nobody noticed: it was not much yet.
In order to occupy me, while we were waiting for the LT, the SGT let me train with the legionnaires of the outpost. He also explained me more about the Legion and finally, he gave me the permission to go out and make short walks in the small city next to the Fort, despite the LT recommendation to keep me inside the fort. I was having a wonderful time during these holidays. I had learned a lot. I also realized that I would be late for the start of the new school year, but I really did not care: my project was done, finished, achieved. And it was a good project. So whatever happened, I thought, I would have a great advantage on my classmates. I nevertheless I followed SGT Ruwart's advice and tried to warn my family. I could not reach them from this outpost lost in the jungle. So I asked the SGT to warn them that I would be delayed and he said that he would send a high-priority message to Kourou asking the main barracks to warn my parents. I was satisfied with that, but I did not know then if and how it had really been done.
LT Prindel finally came back with the rest of the detachment and we went as rapidly as possible to Kourou. We arrived there on October 7. My adventure with the Legion was finished. It had lasted exactly 3 months and 9 days.
At least that's what I thought.
When we arrived in Kourou, I was told that I had to go as soon as possible to CPT Mareuil's office. The CPT looked at my work and told me the following:
"You have worked well, Delfaille. Your pictures and videos will be useful for the Legion. You must now get ready to go to the Colonel's office, but before you go there, I strongly advise you to have another haircut. Your hair is again much too long.”
"But Captain”, I replied, "I want it to be long. Otherwise I will be in trouble with my classmates.”
"That remains to be seen, Delfaille,” continued the Captain, "I give you the order to have a haircut and you will obey that order.”
"But, Sir, I am not a legionnaire. I don't have to obey your order.”
"Delfaille, you better obey my orders from now on !”
The Captain called SGT Ruwart and gave him the order to bring me to the barber, whether I liked it or not. The SGT being an obedient legionnaire took me by the arm and said:
"Pierre, you must have that haircut before you can go home. I don't know why, but you must have it. If you don't accept, I will have to ask two legionnaires to take you there by force. They will hold you, or have you strapped and you will have that haircut.”
I really did not want to be taken by force, by two of these men who could behave brutally when needed, I had now seen it at the outpost. So I followed the SGT, my head down, to the barber. This time it was very rapid. I tried to tell this Master Corporal:
"Don't make it too short, tomorrow I am going back to school and I don't want my classmates to make fun with my haircut.”
But it was to no avail. The Master Corporal seemed possessed by the Devil and used his clippers very rapidly. I could feel them on my skin. It was worse than the previous time. SGT Ruwart looked sad, but said nothing.
When I came out of this trimming, I looked more or less like the previous time, except that my haircut was much shorter. It was now a very short buzz cut. This was a problem for me, but the thought that my project was completely finished comforted me and that made me smile again. SGT Ruwart told me that this was the moment for me to appear in front of the Colonel.
When I entered the Colonel's office, I took of my beret but I did not salute militarily: the SGT had told me to do so since I was not a legionnaire. But I remained at the position of attention. The Colonel looked at me and said:
"That's a good haircut you have now Delfaille. At ease !”
I knew what that meant and I behaved accordingly, not knowing why the Colonel was so formal with me, but he went on speaking:
"Delfaille, at first I did not like the idea of having you here, nor did I like you. But CPT Mareuil has shown me your work. It is good. Congratulations legionnaire.”
Why did he call me legionnaire ? Because I was still wearing the Legion uniform ? I did not understand, but again he went on and explained:
"The temporary contracts, like the one you signed when you arrived here, don't exist anymore. They have been suppressed. But some people have chosen this special way of enlistment during more than three months in order to try Legion life and join the Legion later. In order not to penalize those people, the General commanding the Legion has decided that all temporary contracts longer than three months are automatically transformed into full 5 years contract. You have been wearing the Legion uniform during more than three months, you are thus a full legionnaire for a five year contract. You will now go to Aubagne for your Basic Training and then you will be assigned to a regiment. You may go now, Delfaille.”
I reacted immediately:
"But Colonel, this was only an on-the-job-training”
"It lasted more than three months, so you will serve the Legion for 5 years, whether you want it or not.”
"But Colonel, I am a civilian and I don't want to become a soldier.”
"You are no longer a civilian, you are a legionnaire. And a legionnaire does not discuss with his Colonel, he obeys.”
He started to shout like many officers do when giving orders and told me:
"I cannot accept this form of disobedience from a legionnaire. You will go immediately to the brig and stay there for 20 days. 10 days for refusing to obey and 10 days for lack of respect to your superior officer. All that will be noted on your Legion file. During all that time, you will have no contact with the civilian world.”
He called SGT Ruwart who was waiting outside and told him:
"Delfaille is now a legionnaire. Bring him immediately to the brig for 20 days and take care that he does not communicate with anybody. Legionnaire Delfaille will remain in isolation during 3 days. You will give him the appropriate equipment and haircut. Dismiss, NOW.” He shouted the last two words.
SGT Ruwart did not ask any question. He took me very firmly this time by the arm and pushed me towards a building I had never visited before: the brig. There I received a special very recognizable orange uniform. I got a special treatment : my head was brutally shaved by a legionnaire who was not a real barber, only a prison guard. He did not give me an induction cut, but surely a regulation haircut: 3 mm on top, 1 mm on the sides. I was pushed in an isolation cell where I had lots of time to think about what was happening to me. I was assuming that my parents would come and ask where I was.
I later learned that my parents had received the message I wanted to send them form the outpost and thus knew that I was delayed. They were also told that they would receive another message as soon as I was back in Kourou, but this last message was never sent to them.
When I came out of isolation I could discuss with other punished guys, I must say with other legionnaires since I seemed to be one. I discovered that the Colonel had given me the strongest possible punishment. I also discovered that legionnaires are often sent to the brig for small mistakes. They then have to sleep and eat there, and do menial tasks the rest of the time, without any contact with the non punished legionnaires. I wondered what I had done to be punished that way, to be transformed into a legionnaire against my will ! The only explanation that came to my mind was the fact that the Colonel was still angry against my father and he was using the new rule about temporary contracts to take a revenge which fell on me. I felt that I was not treated in a fair way, but I could no longer communicate with my parents and the SGT was certainly not going to help me against his own Colonel. The only thing which was obvious for me is that I had to get out of this trap as soon as possible and that I would not be able to do so in the Guiana regiment. So I decided to behave as a good little soldier until I was out of here.
When I had finished my "20 days in the brig”, I was told to get ready for my trip to Aubagne, as ordered by the Colonel. I received a nice but uncomfortable uniform. It was no longer an easy going BDU. I was told to wear for the trip a Legion service dress. First I received a khaki long sleeve shirt with many folds, SGT Ruwart who was helping me getting ready told me:
"Now that you are a real legionnaire, you will have to iron this shirt. Do it well and measure carefully the folds, if you don't respect the correct length you will be back in the brig.”
He then gave me an awful green tie and told me that I was not allowed to wear this uniform with open collar, khaki trousers and a military looking khaki jacket with shoulder boards. The socks were green and the shoes were formal black shoes. SGT Ruwart told me that I could keep my beret:
"Put your beret on your head, you must always be covered when outside and you are yet allowed to wear the White Képi a trained legionnaire wears with his formal dress uniform.”
He finally said:
"This uniform, it is only for the trip, but for the whole trip from Kourou to Aubagne, which is a long trip”.
Receiving my first Legion clothes when I arrived had been a joyful event, but this seemed to me like a dreadful prank since I was still not understanding what was happening to me. The SGT seemed to understand better and he looked sad while speaking with me. He then took all my personal belongings, including the knife which had been given me "for keep” and all the uniform pieces lent by the Legion: they had only been lent and should remain in the regiment. The only thing I could keep was my beret. I was brought to CPT Mareuil who very kindly, nearly fatherly, told me:
"I realize how you feel today. But you cannot fight against the rule transforming you into a legionnaire. You are about to leave Guiana for Aubagne, where you will be formally inducted before being sent to Castelnaudary for your Basic Training. There is only one thing you can do: try to give the best you can during Basic Training. At the end of it, there will be one opportunity, and only one, to ask for a regiment. If you are among the best legionnaires, you will be able to ask for the Guiana regiment. Here, I might manage to keep you in the photo and video department, because you are really good. You will thus not be too far from your family.”
I asked him then:
"Captain, will there be an opportunity for me to get my BAC ?”
"That might happen if you behave well, legionnaire Delfaille. Now, since you might try to desert before being in Aubagne and by order of the Colonel, I must put you handcuffs which you will keep for the whole trip. But since you are a good boy, I allow you to salute me a last time before I do so.”
I saluted the Captain, he handcuffed me and I was led to the plane towards France. I really kept these handcuffs until I reached Aubagne, the administrative center of the Legion.
Once in Aubagne, I was freed from the handcuffs but immediately sent to CPT Leroy because I was a "special case”. I tried to start as well as I could by saluting the CPT and introducing me as SGT Ruwart had told me to do. The CPT did not smile, he simply gave me the usual salute in return of mine and told me "At ease, legionnaire”.
He then confirmed that I was now a legionnaire because my "temporary contract with the Legion” lasted more than 3 months and also because when LT Prindel and his detachment had been called to the Space Center, I had asked to be allowed to stay with the legionnaires, signing a document entitled: "I volunteer to participate to all Legion activities”. I now sincerely regretted that I had not accepted the Lieutenant's proposal to call my parents, even if that meant going home to Father and Mother as a loser, "my tail between my legs”. I also realized that it would be much later than the "two months later” before I would see my little brother and my little sister again.
CPT Leroy had in front of him a file corresponding to my present situation and my past activities within the Legion. He realized that I had been sent to the brig and said:
"Your situation is special. You have already been sent for 20 days to the brig with very strong motives. This punishment is justified by your very bad behavior. I can understand why you behaved so badly, but it is a fact that you did it. If you leave things as they are, you will start your career in the Legion with a very bad mark on your file. Are you aware of that ?”
"CPT, I really never intended to ...”
The Captain did not let me finish my sentence and told me:
"I strongly suggest that you sign here and now a new contract. You will thus start afresh without a bad past. I will ask the General to cancel the contract imposed upon you because of your temporary enlistment in Kourou. This will make your life in the Legion much better.”
"CPT, do I really have to become a legionnaire ?”
"You don't have to BECOME A LEGIONNAIRE”, shouted the Captain, "because you already are one. And according to this file, a very bad one. This is why, considering your special case, and your age, I suggest that you sign a new contract.”
In order to avoid to have too many problems, I followed the Captain's advice and signed this new contract. Remember that I was just 17. According to Legion rule, I had to change name keeping only my last name initial. I was told that I was now Legionnaire Jérôme Dromard, Canadian, born in Montreal and that I was 21 years old. My birthday was now December 6 and my parents were both Canadians, living in Montreal. I was also told that from now on, until the end of Basic Training, it was forbidden for me to have any contact with the outside world, for whatever reason it was.
I found that my new name was ridiculous and I hated it, but I still hoped that I would soon be freed from what I considered as a real hell, a place full of special rules I did not know and I did not understand.
In fact there is a rule I did not know. There is a French law saying that any soldier can ask to leave the Army during a first period of 6 months after he signed his enlistment contract. This rule applies also to the Legion and I could have left without any problem. But the Legion does not like that rule. They try to convince the "quitters” to stay instead of leaving, they keep them inside the Legion until they have repeatedly asked, in writing, to be allowed to leave and the Legion delays their departure as much as possible. And they don't advertise about this possibility. I did not know about this until I had been wearing the Legion uniform during a little bit more than 7 months, and then I was told that it was too late to leave legally. I was also strongly advised against desertion: since I am French, I would be judged, sentenced and my whole life would be that of a convict.
When I left CPT Leroy's office, I joined the guys who were from now on my new comrades, the future legionnaires. They were really volunteers. We were all kitted and I received my new equipment without the joy I had had in Kourou when I first received military uniforms to wear during my now forgotten "on-the-job-training”. Each of us had his head completely shorn by rapid and brutal legionnaires. Some of us rejoiced at that moment: it marked their entrance in the Legion, the start of a new life and they really wanted it, but this was no longer new for me and I did not react when my head was pushed and pulled, turned left and turned right. I let the barber force me to bent down, then raise again my head while his clippers were giving me a real baldy. I was left without any reactions after discovering that I was now only "Légionnaire Jérôme Dromard”. Pictures were taken for our Military ID: we had no more our real papers, but a Military Identity Card with our legionnaire name and the mention "Not valid for any official purpose”. We were told that this ID was only meant to enable the Legion and the Police to identify us. We then left Aubagne for the Basic Training center.
Basic Training started in an old farm. It was very uncomfortable and cold. Our group was lead by a young LT assisted by a SGT with a Russian accent and two CPL-in-training who were as brutal with us than others had been with them. In fact I discovered there a world very different from the universe I had seen in Guiana: it was a very hard world, a tough environment where brutality was the norm. The training implied among other things food reductions and sleep deprivation. This led us to make errors or to try to cheat and steal food. The slightest mistake or apparent disobedience to the orders was severely punished, and these punishments could be corporal punishments. It started with pushups, pullups and other exercises. The set of sanctions went through the "invisible armchair”: staying during a long time sitting … on nothing, on thin air to much worse punishments. My new comrades did not seem to mind too much: they really wanted to be in the Legion, most of them came from poor countries and were attracted by the pay, a few came from richer countries and were attracted by the military dimension or by the fact that they got a new name, erasing their past. I was the only Frenchman, and also the youngest one.
After a few days, I spoke just after the SGT had said that we had to remain silent: I had not been attentive to his words. The SGT sprang on me and ordered me to do as punishment 30 min of "Croatian bridge” in our room. In order to make a "Croatian bridge”, you must make a sort of bridge with your body using as only support your head and your feet, your hands must hold one another and remain so in your back. The SGT also required me to sing during this punishment since I wanted to speak when it was not permitted. Considering the fact that the floor was in concrete and that our heads had been freshly shorn and had to remain without beret, this form of punishment was very painful. I concluded naturally … that it would be less painful to behave better and be more attentive to the SGT's orders. At night, thinking about all that while I was lying on my bunk, I started to cry silently. My neighbor, a huge Brazilian named Armando, noticed it. He tried to console me, saying that being once punished was not so terrible. Then I told him my whole story and how I became a legionnaire. It was the first time I told it to one of my comrade, and also the last: legionnaires don't like to speak about their past. But Armando was not like the others. He understood me and then gave me his advice:
"You started the Legion for wrong reasons, but now that you have been taken by them, you must live with it. Don't live as a loser, try to be the best legionnaire of our group: you must anyway live with the fact that you are now in the Legion for 5 years. I see that you are intelligent and educated, so you can get promotions. The three best of our group will be kept at Aubagne and will become CPLs-in-training. After a year, they will be real CPLs and the life will be easier for them. Try to do your best, you will easily become one of these CPLs-in-training.”
What I did not know at that time was that my parents had tried to find me. They had asked the Legion were I was, and in Kourou they told my parents that I was no longer there because I was now a legionnaire. My parents hired a lawyer to get me out, but the central office of the Legion told this lawyer that there was no "Pierre Delfaille” in the Legion. They did not say that there was now a "Jérôme Dromard”. So when I signed a new contract, instead of making my life in the Legion better, I made any prompt exit of the Legion impossible.
Basic Training went on and I was no longer punished: I listen very carefully to whatever the LT, the SGT and the two CPLs-in-training said and I did everything I could to perform correctly the orders they gave, to obey all their orders. I also started, despite my tendency to be talkative, to remain silent most of the time. I did what the LT had described as the good behavior of a legionnaire:
"Brain on ‘OFF', Mouth on ‘CLOSED', Eyes and Ears wide open”.
I felt I was becoming a simple tool, one of the objects the Legion was using, an object capable of intelligent reasoning, but not more than a Legion belonging. It was sad in a sense, but it was more comfortable than remain revolted. The SGT started to mention me as one of "the good examples”. I received my "Képi Blanc”, my White Kepi, after a long march during which Armando and I helped a comrade by taking most of his equipment on our back, on top of our own equipment. After that we came back to decent and more comfortable barracks. That's where I spent my first Legion Christmas. Attendance to the Christmas dinner was compulsory, joyful participation to the feast was also part of our duty. When the Colonel gave me my Christmas present (a small knife) I felt like crying because this was my first Christmas far from home and I was still without news of my parents and brother and sister. I think that if Armando had not noticed what risked to happen I would really have cried in public, but he saved me once again. He consoled me by saying again that nothing could be done against fate and that I had to adapt in order to be happy despite my regrets. He took a bottle of alcohol and we emptied it, and other bottles also if I do remember. On paper I was now 22 since my birthday was now in December, but in reality I was still only 17.
Finally Basic Training was over. Armando finished first of the group and I was third. We were both smiling, although I knew that I really hated that life.
The next day we were called one after the other in the Colonel's office, in presence of our CPT, CPT Leroy, and of our LT. This was the big moment when each of us would be assigned to a regiment. I felt comfortable, being third of the group. Armando went first and came out as CPL-in-training. Then went the second who came out with the same assignment. I went in, saluted and the Colonel, looking at my marks, suggested:
"CPL-in-training, OK for you CPT Leroy ?”
I was happy, but suddenly the CPT reacted:
"Colonel, I feel that this legionnaire does not have the required maturity. I suggest that he be assigned to the paratrooper regiment, in Corsica, where his Colonel will easily be able to keep an eye on him.”
"In that case he will be paratrooper. You can go Dromard.”
Dromard, that's my Legion name. I knew now about obedience, but I dared ask a question:
"Colonel, could it not be the Guiana regiment ?”
"Dromard, you are too good a legionnaire to discuss an order. You will be a paratrooper. There will be no third CPL-in-training this time.”
That's how all my hopes for a good and quiet place during the 5 years I had to spend in the Legion were destroyed.
There was a little feast for us, I tried to appear smiling and Armando told me:
"I can read in your face. But keep doing as if you were really smiling, keep the smile on your face: after a certain time it will come naturally, you will smile from the inside and be happy in the Legion.”
The group of new legionnaires assigned to the paratrooper regiment left for Corsica. There each of us had to appear in front of the Colonel: it was his way to greet his new men. When my turn came, the Colonel looked at me. I knew I was perfectly dressed in my new and well ironed uniform. I also had had a fresh haircut to avoid all problems. The Colonel said:
"Dromard, I received a note from Captain Leroy concerning you. I don't know why but he suggests that I keep an eye on you. As of now, you are confined to barracks, you are not allowed to communicate with the outside world and your finances, your pay, will be controlled by a Master Caporal. That means that whenever you want to take money from your bank account, you have to explain why and wait for the approval. I really don't know why the captain suggests this: you have good marks for your Basic Training and you are more than 18, but since it is endorsed by the General, we are going to do what is requested. Go now.”
I had heard comrades saying that being blocked in a small island like Corsica was not always fun, but here I was blocked inside the Camp, which luckily was big. I felt this was another injustice. But I now knew better than revolt against it and on the contrary, I started by asking the permission to buy beers for all my comrades and for the Master Caporal. I immediately got the permission to buy the beers inside the Company bar!
The para training started and I must confess that I did not dislike these physical exercises. Then came the last jump. The day after we would receive our wings and the best of us would be promoted PFC immediately. I did my best to be that legionnaire. But in the evening, while I was ironing my shirt and measuring in order to respect the numerous folds, I was called to the Colonel's office. The Colonel asked me the following:
"Dromard, is the following true: you signed, in Kourou, a first contract before signing the present one ?”
"Yes Colonel, but it was a temporary one”
"That contract became a full contract because you stayed more than three months, correct?”
"Yes Colonel, but CPT Leroy told me to sign a new one.”
"CPT Leroy asked the General whether both your contracts were valid, and you are a lucky chap, you can stay. The General has examined your case and noticed that you stayed nearly 4 months on that first contract, period during which you were sent to the brig for 20 days. It does not look like you by the way, but it is a fact. Anyway, the General decided that despite these 20 days in the brig, you deserved to stay in the Legion for a longer period and he validated your first contract. You will serve the present one as you started it, but as soon as you reach five years of service, your contract will automatically be extended for another period of five years. Your 20 days in the brig will not be mentioned before that time.”
"Colonel, that means that I have to stay during 10 years in the Legion !”
"Dromard, if you did not like the legion, you should not have joined to start with. You are an excellent legionnaire and paratrooper, but I am not sure you like the kind of life you chose. Infact that you chose twice, on two contracts. I understand now why CPT Leroy suggested that I keep an eye on you. You are my best new paratrooper and I should promote you tomorrow to PFC provided you behave like a real legionnaire. In that case, all the restrictions I have imposed upon you will be raised. You can go now.”
"Colonel, may I at least resume my studies for my BAC. Until now, the Master Corporal refused me the approval to buy the necessary books ?”
"Dromard,” he shouted, "you are here to train and become an elite soldier. You are a good paratrooper but that does not give you all the rights. Since you seem to prefer study to training, you will get 8 days in the brig to think about it. You may go now, and you will rejoin the punished legionnaires in the brig as soon as tomorrow ceremony is finished. You realize that because of what you said now, I will NOT promote you to PFC ! The restrictions will remain. And remember to have a haircut, your hair's too long. GO NOW !”
The Colonel was clearly furious, so I did what my young soldier's reflex dictated: I saluted the Colonel, put my White Kepi correctly on my head, turned my heels in one movement and left the Colonel's office. All that without looking at his face, but looking straight ahead to the walls.
In fact, I was really stunned. I had not expect that blow. No possibility to study for my BAC, although my school project had been done in advance. Plus 8 days in the brig. And after all my hard work, not even PFC and still under strict supervision ! As far as my haircut was concerned, I had no second thoughts: it was months already that I had lost my big blond mane and the curls I thought would help me charming girls. In any case, I was not allowed to go out of the camp and meet the girls, so I went to the barber and asked to have my head, once more, completely shorn.
I did not tell anything to my comrades. The next day it was not "Dromard” who was called first and became PFC, it was another good comrade. But I felt very sad even if I tried to look cheerful when I received my wings. Immediately after the ceremony, my comrades got some free time and went to town for the first time since we were in Corsica, on the contrary I immediately went to the brig where I received again the special uniform worn by punished legionnaires when they do the imposed chores.
Immediately after I finished my time in the brig, I was called again by the Colonel who simply told me:
"Dromard, you are now allowed to communicate with the outside world. I have seen now your complete file with your two contracts, so I know your real tender age. I thus maintain the confinement to barracks and the restriction concerning the way you spend your money. If you behave well, all that will be reviewed next July.” That meant, when I would be 18. I don't know what exactly made him change his mind, but it was a tremendous change for me. I was not a happy legionnaire, but I was no longer an outcast among my comrades. I immediately wrote to my parents to tell them where I was and also what I was, but I did not dare telling them about my second contract. Father's reply was "Too bad for your BAC. Hope you are happy with your new life. Love you.” Mother sent me a much longer and detailed letter. We kept in contact.