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Too good a haircut by thadeusz
Benard Giffart was born in Reims, in France. He was French and studied in a local high school. Bernard’s parents were both teaching in a primary school: they had only studied in a Teacher training college, which in France is not part of a University. They wanted a better life for their son.
Bernard, called Bengi by all his friends, was a very good student. Bengi had a great project: he wanted to go to College and get a Master in French to become a teacher in the last years of high school or even in the "Classes préparatoires", the classes where many young French prepare themselves for the competitive exams organized as admission exams for the "Grandes Ecoles". Like most of his schoolmates, Bengi had rather long hair. His blond hair were not dreadfully long, but came down below his ears in straight lines.
While Bengi was in 11th grade, two important events changed the course of his young life. Firstly, he fell in love with Rosalie, a beautiful girl, and the two decided that as soon as possible they would live together. Second, one of his schoolmates, Arthur Brenner, convinced him to go with him on a Discovery Military Preparation, PMD as the French call it. A PMD is simply a short stay in a regiment organized by the Army for boys and girls the army wants to attract. It is usually organized during school vacations and lasts only 5 or 6 days. During this period, the boys and girls live in uniform in the barracks of their chosen regiment, they obey military orders and accomplish simple military tasks.
When Arthur and Bengi arrived at the barracks, a Sergeant told them that they had too long hair and that it could be dangerous in case their hair was was stuck in a weapon or another moving thing. He told them to attach their hair in back of the head with an elastic in order to form a sort of ponytail. The two boys received then their uniform and their bedding. They were told to go to their room and to get "properly dressed in their uniform" and to make their bed "in a military way" as explained by a Corporal. Orders kept flowing and absolute obedience was expected. Arthur hated this PMD he had really wanted because he felt that with his ponytail he was ridiculous, but Bengi loved it and decided to solve the haircut problem by having his friend Arthur cut his ponytail with little scissors. It was not very well done, but it was hidden under the military cap he had received and the Sergeant was pleased. For Bengi this Military Preparation was really a great discovery and he decided that he would later join the military.
That’s where his problems started. Rosalie did not like the idea: she did not want to have a husband who would be a soldier. Bengi tried to sell her the idea that with his diploma he would be officer or at least NCO after going through the French military academy for NCOs, but she did not want to hear any of it. Finally, since Bengi really wanted to "do something for his country", they settled on the following compromise: Rosalie agreed that Bengi would join the military, but only in the Army reserve and provided that he would spend there not more than the minimum amount of time required by French law: not more than 10 days a year on active duty. This way, as Rosalie said it:
"Bengi, you will have some time to play little soldier in what you think is a nice uniform, but you will not let me alone for too long. And be careful, don’t let them cut your hair: I like playing with them and letting my fingers run through your hairs. Promise you won’t try to have your ponytail cut by a non professional and without my agreement anymore." And Bengi, in love, promised !
Bengi’s parents did not like the idea either, but since Rosalie had agreed and Bengi had promised to restrict himself to short periods, they gave up: Bengi got the required Parental Consent.
Bengi still hoped to become later NCO in the reserve of a para regiment, but he said nothing and he contacted the regiment which was closest to Reims. This was an armoured tank regiment, not really what he wanted for a career, but enough to become a reservist and to keep Rosalie. His file was examined and approved and Bengi was told to come during the summer holidays following his 11th grade for his Initial Basic Reserve Training. He was also told that he had to come with decent sport clothes and sufficiently short hair so that his regimental cover would hide all his hair.
So, before joining his regiment, Bengi went to the hairdresser with Rosalie and there he got an Ivy league haircut. He told the hairdresser that he wanted a regular short back and sides but Rosalie corrected:
"It should not be too short, certainly not on the top of the head. For the rest, it should be a crisp haircut but you should only taper it around the ears and slightly shorten his hair on the sides. You should certainly not thin the hair on the top of my boyfriend’s head."
The hairdresser did his best, with scissors only, to satisfy his two contradictory customers: Bengi, who now wanted his hair really short and Rosalie who did not. It lasted a long time and the hairdresser did a good job. Finally Rosalie won and Bengi accepted it.
Bengi went then to his Initial Training and remained there, playing little soldier during 12 days. At the end, the new reservists were graded according to their scores: Bengi came out second of the lot. He would have been first of the lot had his hair been shorter, but Rosalie made him forget this little failure, arguing that any way he had "played little soldier two more days than foreseen in their agreement". Rosalie had also other arguments which she used in a very feminine way.
During the last parade, when the Captain in charge of their training gave the diplomas, the Sergeant who had led them during these 12 days gave each new reservist a beret of their new regiment. It was a black beret with the very specific regimental cap badge.
Bengi was not called for active duty before the second semester of his 12th grade. The plan mentioned in the summons for this reserve period was very simple: "training during 8 days for future SENTINELLE sessions". The French SENTINELLE sessions are periods during which soldiers patrol with their rifles in the streets of a "delicate" neighborhood in order to prevent any terrorist action. Since it requires many patrols and many soldiers, reservists are called to relieve active duty soldier of some of the burden of these protective and dissuasive missions.
Bengi went to the same hairdresser and Rosalie accompanied him to check that everything was done according to her will, which was very strong. Bengi insisted to have a slightly shorter haircut than the previous time. It was a long discussion since, in any case, Bengi had let his hair grow long again. The hairdresser calmed the two lovers by saying that he reminded perfectly what he had done (which was a lie) and would do something that would satisfy both. It took lots of time, a lot of scissors work and finally this expensive haircut was done in a way that made Bengi and Rosalie happy, but it must be said that Rosalie had won and that Bengi’s hair, on the top of his head, was still rather long.
Bengi went to his reserve session, learned how to patrol with his heavy rifle and the rest of his protective kit. He did it during long hours, very long hours, in the streets of a pseudo village created by the army for that purpose. At the end, there were no grades but the reservists were told that from now on they could be called for a real active duty session. They also had the right to refuse to go if they had other civilian business to do.
Bengi refused all other summons since he had to prepare for his final exam, the famous BAC. He took his BAC with Rosalie and both succeeded brilliantly. Bengi was accepted in the College he had chosen for his degree in French and Rosalie went to an engineering school in the same College.
The lovers had a wonderful carefree holiday. All military problems were forgotten. Bengi had again long hair and Rosalie was happy.
Bengi and Rosalie decided that since they were starting together their freshman year at university, it was time to realize their old dream. They found a small apartment, very small and very cheap, and started to furnish it. They now lived together. They had of course a big bed but also two separate desks for their courses. Rosalie told Bengi that he had now new and serious responsibilities and that he should resign from the reserves, but Bengi vehemently refused. He said that he had signed for three years and that he intended to respect his signature. He even said:
"Rosalie, my love, if I don’t respect the signature I gave to the Army, how are you going to expect me to respect the promise I make now to marry you as soon as we get our diplomas?"
With that argument, Bengi won the fight and Rosalie remained quite. The first semester went on without any problem. Bengi even refused two summons to go to reserve activities in order to concentrate on his exams. He had again long hair.
The two lovers took the required exams and once again they passed with flying colours. Bengi was even promised, if he continued working that well, a special scholarship to help him become a teacher: he was told that he had a "natural aptitude to teach and to work with young students."
During the second semester, a summons (a "convocation" as the French Army calls it) was sent to Bengi. He was told to come for a reserve period which would last 8 days and during which he would relieve the active duty soldiers by taking a share of their SENTINELLE mission in Paris. He was told to arrive, in civvies, with reasonably short hair at 15h00 at the gate of the barracks of his regiment. He was also reminded that he had not participated to any reserve period during the first semester. Bengi concluded that it was his duty to go, especially since these 8 days occurred during a holiday period. He promised Rosalie that he would take her during the remaining holiday week to a nice place in Brittany. Bengi went then, with Rosalie, for the third time to the same hairdresser and came out with relatively short hair which could be hidden under his beret, but Rosalie had won a lot: Bengi’s hair was slightly longer than usual on the top of his head. She loved that and that night, she played during long hours with her boyfriend’s hair.
Bengi left Rosalie at the gate of the barracks on a Sunday afternoon, as mentioned in the summons, and joined his fellow reservists. They formed a group of 9 : a Sergeant, two Corporals, five PFC and Bengi who was only Private. They received their kit and their weapon, were told to put on their uniform and stand up, at ease, ready for inspection. A Captain came who examined each of the reservists, their weapon, the length of their hair and the way they wore their uniform. When he reached Bengi, he told him to take off his beret, as he had done with the others, and concluded:
"For you all reservists, I congratulate you. Your hair is carefully hidden under your beret and you wear well your uniform. Remember that while patrolling you are not only going to protect the civilians but also represent the Army. So keep an excellent attitude, clean and well pressed uniforms and satisfactorily short hair."
The reservists were then told to board a small van and were driven to barracks near Paris where they were assigned to a room: a small room for the six PVT and PFCs, with a military cot for each of them, and a larger room, with real beds, for the SGT and the two CPLs. The advantage was that the PVTs did not have to make every morning their bed in a military way, they just had to fold the simple cover which had been given to them.
The next day, Bengi and his comrades started their "military life". Every morning they were woken up at 05:30, they quickly washed and shaved in order to be what the Sergeant called "worthy soldiers", wearing well their uniform. They received a solid breakfast and put on additional protections against the cold and also against potential terrorist snipers. Finally, they attached their helmet to their belt, took a little bag with additional material on their back, put on their beret and last but not least, took their FAMAS, the French rifle. The SGT inspected them and checked that their hair was really hidden under their beret, making them as close as possible to active duty soldiers. Bengi’s shift was a tedious one: every morning he started, with a PFC and a CPL, a long patrol from 8am till 11am, he then had two hours to rest and get some food, then another patrol from 1pm till 4pm followed by another 2 hours rest and finally a last patrol from 6pm to 9pm.
The active duty soldiers did not really seem to like that, but the reservists felt that they were really useful. Bengi was very proud of what he was doing. He was also taking great care of his uniform: he wanted to be as elegant a soldier as possible.
This reserve period was supposed to last till Sunday morning, but on Saturday evening all reservists were called in the officer’s office. This officer was a young Lieutenant who was commanding the detachment of active duty and reserve soldiers for this SENTINELLE mission. The LT explained:
"One of my active duty soldiers had an accident and his left ankle has a small problem. This makes him temporarily unavailable for the patrols, probably during a week. Since you, reservists, are leaving tomorrow and since I cannot have easily a replacement, I ask you whether one of the PFCs or even PVT Giffart could not stay one more week."
All the PFCs explained that they had a job and could not stay for an additional week. Bengi said nothing. The LT turned towards him and said:
"Giffart, you are a student and you are on holiday, so you can stay one more week without problem."
"Mon Lieutenant", replied Bengi, "I have promised my girlfriend to take her to Brittany during this last week of our vacation."
All the other reservists and the Lieutenant were smiling. An active duty Staff-Sergeant, SSG Morel, who was also present was laughing loudly.
"Giffart, you will be able to do that later and she will understand. After all you are the man ! And you are here to protect your fellow citizens."
The LT took a piece of paper and wrote a few words on it and said:
"So it is settled, I just extended your reserve period by one week and I placed you out of any reserve unit for that period. You are now embedded in the active duty section where your wounded comrade was. SSG Morel, take Giffart to his new room and help him to get settled for this additional week."
Bengi was not really displeased with this turn of events. He sent a short message to Rosalie, because he was not ready to say that he had accepted this extension, although he had in fact more or less volunteered ! In his message, Bengi said that he had been ‘forced’ to stay one more week and that this was thus not a breach in their "maximum 10 days a year" contract. Rosalie replied with a short message:
"It is good for one time only."
Bengi also felt bigger and older since he would from then on be on patrol with real active duty soldiers. So he said goodbye to his comrades reservists, had a last drink with them and turned towards his new roommates, all of them active duty soldiers. He realized that he was still the youngest one, but that he was no longer the only PVT. There were two other PVTs, soldiers with less than a year of service, Marcel and Charles. Bengi, who was a really smiling boy with an open attitude, immediately made friend with both of them.
On the Sunday morning, while his reserve comrades left in the same little van, Bengi started patrolling again but with other comrades now. That day, he was placed with Marcel on guard duty during hours in the "Gare du Nord" of Paris. Marcel found this boring, but Bengi kept liking it. When they were back for the evening rest, Charles looked at his haircut and started to laugh:
"Look comrades at this so called soldier. He has long hair like a girl and he now pretends that he is in a unit of real soldiers."
The SSG added that Charles was right, but that Bengi was not a real soldier, only a reservist. That’s when Bengi reacted:
"Well, my girlfriend wanted me to keep long hair. Before coming here for my reserve period, I went to a hairdresser and my SGT approved my haircut. So, let me keep it for this additional week !"
The SSG decided to refuse that and he ordered Charles and Marcel to give Bengi a "slightly shorter" haircut. Marcel got hold of Bengi and made him sit on a chair facing an empty wall. He then forced Bengi to take off his vest and his t-shirt. Then Charles arrived with a delicate comment:
"At school, I was trained to be a barber and my specialty was to give baldies. So don’t be anxious Bengi, I am a fully trained barber who thinks that military life is better."
Marcel was holding Bengi firmly and Bengi started to be really anxious. So he said:
"Since I am here only for one more week, and as such embedded with you guys, could one of you give me a help and shorten slightly my hair ? But please don’t overdo it. I said, only slightly shorter !"
Charles started to work with a great smile: he had clippers with him and liked using them. He put the clippers on and Bengi was now really anxious, but he chose not to show it. Charles started to work, but unexpectedly he went smoothly and carefully. He was not mean with Bengi and gave him something he could accept: a haircut that looked like an acceptable military haircut, but which was not a real one, not a regulation haircut, not a too short one. At the end, when Bengi could finally look in the only available mirror he noticed that he was left with something looking like an Ivy league haircut, but a very short one: 3 mm on the sides tapered and 10 mm on the top of the head. When Bengi saw what had been done, he was nevertheless afraid: he knew that in one week he would never recuperate hair long enough for Rosalie. But then, what had been done could not be undone and he got dressed again. That’s when SSG Morel interfered:
"It is your hair on the floor, Bengi, so clean everything in this room and since you did not do it immediately, as a real soldier would have done, you will thereafter give me fifty push-ups. GO now." Bengi realized that he better obeyed this order and immediately did what had been requested, with Charles who came to his rescue and did spontaneously 50 other push-ups. The atmosphere among the soldiers was great that evening despite the dullness of their mission.
After this incident, life was cool for Bengi who was treated by all as a real soldier. At the end of this second week, Bengi was called to the Lieutenant’s office. SSG Morel was present. The LT had something to tell him:
"PVT Giffart, the wounded soldier you are replacing is not better and you are doing well in my section. I have thus decided to extend your reserve period till the end of our SENTINELLE mission in 6 weeks. SSG Morel will give you additional pieces of equipment. GO now."
"But, Mon Lieutenant," replied Bengi, "I must go back to my courses. I have exams to prepare."
"That is irrelevant."
"But, Mon Lieutenant, I am a reservist, I am not an active duty soldier. You cannot keep me here."
The LT explained calmly:
"PVT Giffart, the law on reservists states clearly that once a reservist has accepted a reserve period, this period can be extended if it is necessary, provided the reservist is in uniform and in the barracks. This is the case. You will now serve as embedded reservist for 6 more weeks. You are not here to discuss orders but to obey. If you don’t like that, resign from the reserve after the end of this period. But," and the LT was so angry that he started to shout, "GO NOW and and get your hair shaved: it is starting to grow in an inelegant way for a soldier. DISMISS."
Bengi was like struck by lightning after hearing everything the LT had told him. He remained motionless during a few moments, luckily he had been well drilled during his Initial Training: Bengie saluted the officer, put his beret back on his head, made an about turn and left the office. SSG Morel left with him and gave him more clothes since he was going to stay longer in uniform. The SSG told Bengi:
"I understand that you don’t like staying here instead of going back to your college. But it is only for 6 weeks. What is 6 weeks in a man’s life ?"
Bengi went to his room, dropped his additional clothes on the floor instead of putting them in his cupboard, and rushed on his phone to call Rosalie. He told her that he had to stay 6 more weeks and that he could not avoid it and that it was not his fault, etc. Rosalie simply replied:
"You betrayed me. I don’t love you anymore" and she hung up.
Hearing that, Bengi fell on his cot and started to cry. After a short time his friends Marcel and Charles entered the room. They were anxious since he had not eaten. He told them the whole story and Charles said:
"But that’s only for 6 more weeks, your girlfriend exaggerates."
"I am afraid I will not see her again later", replied Bengi.
"You will !" asserted Charles, "but in the meantime, the SSG told us that the LT wants you to have shorter hair. Let me do it gently, or the LT will have you have a completely shaved head."
Bengi looked at his friends. Both had very short hair. Suddenly he made up his mind and asked:
"I must stay with you during 6 more weeks, so please Charles, give me the same haircut as yours. Since I have to stay among the soldiers, I want at least to look like a real soldier."
"Are you sure that you want that ?" asked Marcel.
"YES" replied Bengi.
Bengi sat on a chair, took of his vest and his t-shirt and started to wait. Charles took his clippers and first drew a horizontal line at the level of the ears. Before going further, Charles asked:
"A haircut like mine ? Are you sure ?"
"YES" replied Bengi "and stop asking, just do it, please !"
Charles went on, very professional, and reduced the sides to 1 mm, no longer tapered and, after several passages with an appropriate guard, he reduced the top of the head to a uniform 3 mm. Bengi had now a real regulation haircut.
The three boys went then to the company bar where Marcel started to sing:
"Look, he is really one of us now, one of us, one of us."
The evening ended very well for all the soldiers of this detachment.
The next day started like the previous days, full with dull patrols. Most soldiers disliked this type of activity and in order to have a little bit of fun, the wore they trousers over their boots (which were not not always uniform boots) or the soldiers let their hair, or worse their beard, grow more than what the regulations permitted. But Bengi, after all, was proud to have been chosen (in a way) to protect his fellow citizens. He was also proud of his uniform and most specifically of his black beret: he had learned now that his regiment was the only one to have a black beret. Radiant as always, Bengi decided that he should wear his uniform as well as possible, tucking his trousers in his boots. He was really making efforts to wear his uniform smartly and to place his beret correctly on his head. Moreover, since they were constantly walking through the streets, he polished his boots every evening. He also asked Charles to "clean his haircut" every week. In a way, he was taking his revenge after Rosalie’s refusing to speak with him anymore.
The other soldiers of his group were influenced by Bengi’s attitude. First Charles and Pierre started to wear their trousers well tucked into their boots, and to wear only regulation boots. Other soldiers followed. Soon Bengi’s example had lead a whole group of soldiers to be smartly dressed.
Bengi had not noticed that SSG Morel and the LT were making notes of everything that was happening. Bengi was simply doing his job, and doing it very well.
When the last day arrived for this detachment, another detachment arrived to relieve the first one. There was a parade and a Captain came who made a short speech in which he mentioned the elegant way in which the soldiers of the first detachment had accomplished their duty. He then gave medals to all soldiers who had spent enough time on SENTINELLE missions and the Medal of the Department of Defense to Marcel and Charles who had now served during a full year. It was supposed to be finished and Bengi’s detachment was supposed to leave Paris for Reims. But the Captain had still something to say:
"Private Giffart step forward."
Bengi did not know what was going to happen but he obeyed the order, stepped forward, and took the position of attention. The Captain continued:
"PVT Giffart, you came here as reservist for a one week period, but you served a full 8 week periods to replace a wounded soldier. You accepted to do this gallantly. You performed perfectly your duties. You have now more than one year of service as reservist, and the Colonel has decided that you deserve, like your two comrades, the Medal of the Department of Defense."
The Captain pinned this medal on Bengi’s uniform and Bengi did not know how to react, so he simply saluted. But the Captain was not done with Bengi:
"PVT Giffart, your behavior has been a model which served as positive example for many of your active duty comrades. Your Lieutenant has thus suggested that, despite your short time of service, you should be promoted here to PFC. This promotion has been accepted by the Colonel." The Captain stuck PFC stripes on Bengi’s uniform and finished his speech with:
"PFC Giffart, take your place in the ranks"
Bengi, not realizing fully what was happening to him, saluted the Captain, made a perfect about turn and went back to his place. Marcel and Charles were happily smiling to him.
The detachment was then told to board a big Army bus, with their bags and they left Paris for their barracks near Reims. All soldiers were pleased: the mission was finished, they were going "home" since the barracks was their home. They knew that they would have a few days rest, or even a two weeks leave. They exchanged jokes. The most pleased of them all was Bengi who kept touching his medal and his single PFC stripe. He really looked great. He had decided to ask Charles to give him a last "refresh" the evening before the parade and he was pleased because he knew he looked more "soldierly" during the parade. Bengi was so pleased that he invited all his friends to have a beer with him as soon as they were in the barracks.
But, as soon as they were in the barracks, SSG Morel told Bengi that he had to go immediately to the Colonel’s office for his reservist debriefing and final report. Bengi went without hesitation: he had really done his best. He entered the Colonel’s office, saluted according to the rules and took off his beret, still standing in the position of attention. The Colonel started to speak while looking at Bengi’s file, a thick pack of documents:
"PFC Giffart, I must first congratulate you on becoming PFC and receiving your medal. You know that there is always an evaluation of a reservist’s active duty period based on the report made by the LT. This report is excellent for you. The LT says that, despite the fact that you did not expect it, you stayed during 8 weeks and did a perfect job. You always wore smartly your uniform which was always perfectly clean. The LT even says that you influenced greatly your fellow active duty soldiers who started to behave in a more elegant way. This is why your officer wanted me to promote you to PFC and to give you early your Department of Defense Medal. "
The Colonel raised his head and looked at Bengi (who was red in his face because of the emotion) and added:
"I fully agree with the LT when he says that you are in fact a born soldier, a model of good military conduct ! Moreover you have a good influence on the soldiers who are with you and when I look at your neat and sharp haircut, I can only conclude that this is too good a haircut to let it go civil."
The last words made on Bengi the effect of a bucket of iced water: what did the Colonel mean with "too good to let it go civil" ? He learned it rapidly since the Colonel explained him what he meant:
"PFC Giffart, you must know that the government has created a Voluntary Military Service for school dropouts with disciplinary problems who are ready to try to correct their behavior and to acquire more knowledge. These dropouts are called Volunteers. One company of this Voluntary Military Service has been assigned to my regiment, your regiment. I got the required teachers, but I need soldiers to give a good example to the boys and girls who will come, soldiers who can also serve as school supervisors. In your file, I found this appreciation by your teachers: ‘This student has a natural aptitude to teach and to work with young students’. I thus decided to keep you with us as active duty soldier and to let you work with the Volunteers."
Bengi was stunned. He had not expect that ! So he tried to reply:
"But, Mon Colonel, I am only a reservist, a student."
"PFC Giffart, you know now that the law on reservists enable your chief to extend your reserve period, if needed. This law also enables the Minister of Defense to assign a reservist to serve as active duty soldier for an initial period of 5 years, like any other active duty soldier. It has been done in your case."
"But, Mon Colonel, all soldiers can resign during their first six months of service. I don’t have six months of service, so I resign immediately."
The Colonel started to be rather angry, red in his face, not because he was moved but because he was on the verge of explosion. He concluded the discussion with these words:
"PFC Giffart, you have served more than a year in the reserve, so you cannot resign anymore. In any case, you are no longer reservist PFC Giffart, you are active duty Recruit Giffart. If you don’t behave correctly, you will be sent to jail for desertion or another reason I will invent. You will start active duty Recruit training immediately: today is the first day foreseen for the arrival of raw recruits, you will simply arrive a little bit early. Master Sergeant Morel will give you your Recruit uniform and assign you to your quarters. NOW, GO OUT OF HERE, RECRUIT GIFFART."
Bengi did not know what he should do, except salute the Colonel and go out. He started to salute and then put his beret on his head but was interrupted by the Colonel who shouted:
"Recruits don’t wear a beret, get used to that Recruit Giffart. DISMISS."
Once out of the Colonel’s office, Bengi was met by SSG Morel who told him:
"I understand that you don’t like this situation, but there is nothing to do about it. You are a soldier now and you must obey the Colonel’s orders. Follow me."
"Staff Sergeant", started Bengi "in the bus, coming back from Paris, I promised my friends to buy them a beer as soon as we were here. Please let me do it before I have to follow you."
"No way", replied SSG Morel, "you are now a recruit and recruits are not allowed to have any contact with confirmed soldiers, except those chosen for their training. Moreover, recruits are not allowed to drink alcohol in the barracks."
"Well, Staff Sergeant, let me at least call my parents. They don’t even know that I am now PFC."
"You are no longer PFC, you are an active duty Recruit. As such, you are not allowed to call anybody. I will call your parents and that’s it. The other raw Recruits of your batch will arrive this evening and tomorrow before noon. You will go through induction now and nobody will know that you are an ex-reservist."
"But Staff Sergeant, I don’t want to be a soldier. I want to be a specialized teacher. And I have been through basic training for the reserves."
"Recruit Giffart, you are an active duty soldier now, and that is not to be discussed anymore if you don’t want to be severely punished. You will also serve as supervisor for dropouts, that is if you behave as well as you did during the SENTINELLE mission. And you must do everything the other recruits are going to do, including basic training, but since you did it as reservist, you might do it better. If you only wanted to remain a reservist, then you should not have adopted that too good haircut nor that attitude with your uniform: that’s what attracted my attention. Now stop behaving like a baby and follow me like a man."
Bengi dropped down his head, moaning, and followed the Staff Sergeant to a big supply room. There he had to give up his uniform and his undies, he was told that he was no longer allowed to wear his medal nor his PFC stripe. He also had to give up his cellphone and was told that he would be allowed to phone at specific moments only. He finally received a recruit uniform with military type undies, less comfortable and less elegant than his reservist uniform. To make everything sadder he received a simple recruit cap instead of his regimental black beret. Staff Sergeant Morel authorized him to keep his boots since they had been run in already and were thus more comfortable ! He then took Bengi to the barber.
There were 5 barbers waiting for the new recruits. All of them knew Bengi’s story and started to make fun of the "PFC who became recruit". Morel made them stop and told the first barber, SGT Renders, to do his job with Bengi. SGT Renders was slightly angry at Morel’s remark and simply said:
"It is sad to destroy such a nice haircut. But, since it is my job, I will do it rapidly."
The barber got hold of Bengi, who did not resist anymore, pushed him in a chair, told him to place his hands on the armrests and stop moving. He then caped briskly Bengi, took off his recruit cap and let it fall on the floor. He then started to shave completely Bengi, briskly, savagely, pushing Bengis head in the direction he wanted, bending his head fiercely in order to have access to his neck or pulling it violently in order to have access to his forehead. Finally he was done and brought Bengi in front of a mirror, still with the cape. Bengi could see that he was now completely bald. He placed a hand on his head and felt a few remaining stubbles and sighted like a prisoner entering his cell. The barber, SGT Renders, told him:
"Yes, you can sigh. That’s what happen to reservists who think they are as good as real soldiers."
Staff Sergeant Morel replied:
"This recruit was not as good as your comrades, he was better. You should be ashamed of the way you treated him. This is why you, SGT Renders, are going to clean the floor and give me 50 push-ups" and turning towards Bengi he continued, "Recruit Griffart, take off that cape, get hold of your recruit cap and of your kit and follow me on the double as you did in Paris."
Morel took Bengi to a big room with 6 double beds, his quarters for the next 3 months. Bengi fell on one of the beds and started to think, but did no longer cry. He was sad about what had happened and kept moaning. After about an hour (he had no watch anymore) another recruit entered the room. His head was shaved and he wore the same uniform as Bengi. This one was smiling and said:
"Hello. My name is Marc Vander. we are going to be roommates. What is your name ?"
"My name is Bernard Giffart and I am here against my will."
"Against your will, mate ? That’s impossible !"
So Bengi told marc his whole story, and Marc gave Bengi an excellent advice:
"Bernard, don’t tell that story to the other recruits. We come here to start a career hoping to be good enough to have a nice job. You are here because you were already excellent and you will have a well defined job. Be sad if you want, but be silent. And let’s be friends."
Bengi decided to follow this advice. He started to behave like the other "raw" recruits and made believe he really wanted to become a soldier. But he was no longer smiling. He had numerous discussions with his friend Marc at night, but he did the strict minimum to avoid being punished. He was no longer the smart soldier he had been during his SENTINELLE period. He was no longer called "Bengi" but only "Recruit Giffart" or even "Giffart" by his superiors, and "Bernard" by the other recruits, except by his new friend Marc. Bengi was very unhappy. SSG Morel, who was in charge of the recruits, made a note of this drastic change of behavior and made a report for the Colonel, unaware of Bengi.
After two weeks, the recruits had a short 48 hours leave starting on a Friday evening. Bengi got his cellphone and called Rosalie and his parents to let them know that he was coming. He got no answer. He went as quickly as possible to Reims and discovered that his small apartment was now empty and that Rosalie had left a note with the janitor: "I don’t want to see you, never more." Bengi went to his parents’ home and found them there. His mother told him that she was very sad and his father added that he considered that Bengi had betrayed them. The poor Bengi tried to explain that he could not avoid his present fate and his mother told him:
"Well, you betrayed us when you joined the reserve. I don’t want to see you here."
Bengi left his parents and called a University friend, Robert, who accepted to host him. Bengi and Robert discussed late at night and Robert gave Bengi an excellent idea: why not contact one of his professors and examine with him whether he could keep studying, but at a distance and at a slower pace. The next day Bengi contacted his professor who told him that he would help him studying. Bengi felt much better and went back to his regiment, smiling again.
As soon as he arrived in the barracks, SSG Morel told him that he should report to the Colonel the next day first thing in the morning. When Bengi entered the Colonel’s office he felt happy now with his new status: active duty soldier and student simultaneously.
The Colonel had Morel’s report on his desk and seemed rather concerned:
"Recruit Giffart, according to SSG Morel you are an unhappy and bad soldier. Can you explain why you behave like that. This is an order."
"Mon Colonel, I was unhappy when I heard that I was not allowed to go back to my college and to study there, but now this is arranged and there will be no problem with me."
"Giffart, I cannot believe you. I have here a list of facts showing that you are no longer a model soldier. I don’t want a soldier like you as supervisor for the dropouts !"
"Mon Colonel, my girlfriend and my parents don’t want to speak with me anymore, so the only thing I have left is the Army. Let me show you that I can be a good soldier."
"Even if I keep you out of the University ?"
"Even in that case, Mon Colonel. The only thing that I ask is to be allowed to study at a distance during my free time."
"With the help of one of my professors, at a distance, as soon as my basic training is done."
"You impress me, Recruit Giffart, I will give you another week to show that you are right, but if you keep behaving like an ordinary soldier, at the end of the week I will choose another ‘model soldier’ for my dropouts, my Volunteers, and you will serve your 5 years as tankist."
"At your command, Mon Colonel."
Bengi made a perfect set of exit moves. He started to smile again and to be the radiant soldier he had been. Nothing happened at the end of the week and Bengi assumed that he could go ahead on the same bases. At the end of his fourth week, he decided to go to the barber and asked to be treated by SGT Renders, the same barber as on his first day. After saluting respectfully, as a recruit must do, he asked this barber to shave him but to help him regain at the end of his Basic Instruction the haircut Charles had given him in Paris. SGT Renders asked him:
"Do you now intend to become a real active duty soldier ?"
"Yes", replied Bengi with a smile, "with your help".
"It will be done then, smiling recruit."
Bengi behaved well and adopted the same attitude as during his reserve period. This had again a good influence on his fellow recruits, especially on Marc, because Bengi did everything, chores included, with a great smile. Bengi was really radiant and had more and more friends. His haircut got better and better. The barber (always SGT Renders) was less and less brutal, but could not avoid being slightly the brute that he was in the beginning. Nevermind, Bengi thanked him with a smile for his brutality, without saying that much. SSG Morel was still keeping notes of Bengi’s behaviour.
When the 3 months of Basic training were over, Bengi sent a message to Rosalie and to his parents, inviting them to his passing out parade. The parade took place, but neither Rosalie nor Bengi’s parents were present. But Bengi’s friend, Robert, was present. Robert was the student who had offered him a bed when he was chased by his parents. At the end of the parade, the Colonel made a speech, saying that the new recruits were now ex-recruits, they were all Privates. He finally instructed several NCOs to give to the new Privates their regimental beret. Bengi received his beret from his barber, with whom he had now made friend and who was longer a brute. SGT Renders had carefully taken Bengi’s own Beret, the one he had had to surrender during his induction. The barber congratulated him slightly more than is usual and Bengi replied as a Private must do: he simply saluted his superior and smiled. The Colonel went on and called the best recruits: Marc and Bengi were called and became both, the same day, PFC. They received their PFC stripe from the hands of SSG Morel.
Then the Colonel went on and called again Bengi:
"PFC Giffart, step forward."
Bengi obeyed, not knowing what could happen: this was most unusual.
"PFC Giffart, you deserved as reservist a Medal from the Ministry of Defense. This medal was taken back, on my order, when you became an active duty soldier. Your smile and your excellent attitude have helped many of the new Privates. I thus decided to give you back, for exceptional reasons, this Medal and SSG Moreel will pin it on your uniform" and Morel did what had been told. But the Colonel then went on:
"PFC Giffart, you have already accomplished a SENTINELLE mission as if you were an active duty soldier, and you did it despite the fact that you were a reservist on an extended period. These facts must be taken into consideration. The Minister of Defense has thus decided to give you today the SENTINELLE medal," and the Colonel himself stepped forward and pinned this second medal on Bengi’s chest.
After that the ceremony was over and the new Privates had a one week leave. Robert congratulated Bengi, and so did Marc, Charles and Marcel, and many others. This included many of the new Privates: Bengi was so radiant that none of them was jealous.
Bengi had asked SSG Morel if he could stay in the regiment during his leave. He had explained that neither Rosalie nor his parents wanted to see him but that he wanted to be able to go to Reims and organize his further studies. SSG Morel told him that there would be no problem, provided he stayed in a room with other soldiers and remained in uniform when he was inside the barracks. Morel also told Bengi that he would have to abide by all the disciplinary rules applicable to a PFC since he chose to remain on military grounds. Bengi accepted all that and was happy when he was told that he would share his room with Marcel and Charles and also another soldier. It was thus now a great promotion: a room for 4 instead of many more.
Bengi went to his University and discussed his situation with his professors. They told him that he could try to study alone, asking questions via internet if available in his barracks, but that he would have to take the same exams as the other students. Bengi came back to the barracks and asked SSG Morel if he could use one of the study halls that would be prepared for the dropouts, the Volunteers, as a study place when the dropouts would be out of it. He got the permission to do so, and an internet access.
As soon as the leave was over, Bengi was told that he could no longer stay in the same room since he now had to work with two other soldiers doing the same job as he did: there would be three groups of dropouts and these soldiers would each take one group in charge. Bengi accepted all that with a smile and started with the other two to organize the different study halls, painting the places, placing the pieces of furniture, assembling the blackboards: all types of works a normal student does not do, but a soldier has to accomplish. Finally everything was ready just in time and the first Volunteers arrived, got their specific uniform and were assigned to a room.
Bengi was now placed under the command of SSG Kellerman. This SSG had not observed the efforts done by Bengi during his reserve period and during his basic training. Kellerman only knew that he had at his disposal a fresh PFC who could take care of disciplining the dropouts and who could lead them them to the different study halls where these dropouts were supposed to do what they hated most: study.
SSG Keller gave military like advices to Bengi and his two companions, who were older soldiers, but all PFCs:
"If they make too much noise, let them give you push-ups. If they are noisy, take them for a forced march in step. If one of them does not study properly, let him go to the blackboard, facing the others, in the position of attention during 30 min. You will invent more acceptable punishments if needed. By the way, officially they are called ‘Volunteers’ but you have my permission to call them ‘dropouts’, that’s what they are."
The first time Bengi was confronted to his group of dropouts, he explained them who he was and what he expected from them:
"My name is PFC Giffart Bernard. I am a soldier in charge of helping you reaching your goal: acquire more knowledge. I am thus in uniform. As active duty soldier, I wear a beret. You have chosen to come here to study and to acquire more self discipline. You have thus chosen to be Volunteers and as such you will wear the same uniform as me during one year, except for the beret: you wear a forage cap, but we belong to the same regiment and we thus have the same insign on our headgear, the difference in type of headgear simply shows that we do not have the same obligations. I am here to help you learning and you are here to learn. Moreover, I have to respect specific rules, it would be easier if you accepted without problem to respect the same rules since we wear the same uniform. I will help you to learn these disciplinary rules which will make acquiring knowledge easier. I will also answer all your questions, if I can, during the study periods, provided you all remain calm and respectuous of the uniform you chose to wear. Are you going to do all that ?"
Unanimously, they said "Yes" but there were smiles on some of the faces.
Bengi went on:
"Some of you don’t want to respect the common rules, but they have signed that they want the help of the Army. If they create a nuisance for the others, I will have to punish them according to Army standards".
Then Bengi added: "You don’t have to wear hair as short as mine, but it would be nice if some of you chose to have neat short hair. I will now take those who want it to the barber, he is an NCO and I am honored to have him as friend despite the difference in rank."
Bengi had warned SGT Renders and many dropouts followed him. Each time, Renders asked the new Volunteer what type of haircut he wanted, and those boys with long haircuts all said "The same as PFC Giffart." When they came back in class, the effect of all these identically short, but not excessively short, haircuts was impressive and most other boys wanted to go too. Bengi told them that they could not go now, they had to wait at least a day for their haircut. The girls wanted also a neat haircut. This way Bengi started to influence very positively the whole group and to establish his authority. SSG Kellerman was making notes.
Bengi taught his group of Volunteers to march, to salute, to make their bed, to eat and to respect the authority in the military way. He did not need to shout, he simply reminded them when they started to be noisy that they had accepted the same rules as he had. The Volunteers, boys and girls, had rapidly another look. They were more disciplined and the appointed teachers could do a good job with them. Every evening, the Volunteers (Bengi did not like to use the word ‘dropouts’) had to study after dinner, from 7 pm till 10 pm, in one of the study halls prepared for them. Bengi succeeded in making them remain silent during that period. He also explained how one of them could show that he or she wanted to ask a question: by standing up and raising a hand. This technique had in fact been invented by Bengi who tried to answer all the questions, clarify all the difficulties, and also to simply say that he did not know the answer but would try to find it for the next day. Rarely, Bengi had to punish one of the Volunteers: he used then the advice given by SSG Kellerman and sent the offender to the blackboard, in the position of attention, during 15 or 30 minutes. SSG Kellerman was constantly taking notes.
Bengi also suggested to his Volunteers to form little groups of 4 or 5 who would work together, speaking at very low voice, explaining one another the problems they encountered. It is only after they had tried this way that they should call their supervisor.
When his Volunteers were busy doing something else, or were out because it was Sunday, or late at night, Bengi worked on his University courses. He did not sleep a lot, but he managed. He never forgot to visit every two week SGT Renders and ask him to refresh his haircut. These days, he took a few hours to rest with friends he had made in the regiment, Marc, Charles and Pierre if possible, but many others too.
Before the end of his year with the Volunteers, Bengi took several exams at the University. The results were sent to his Colonel, but he was confident.
At the end of the year all volunteers had to take an exam. Most of Bengi’s group passed successfully. They had also acquire a better notion of discipline and a much better self-esteem. 5 of the boys (out of 40) asked to become soldiers, provided they could serve in the same regiment and with PFC Giffart (4 could be accepted, the 5th one had to be rejected for medical reasons). The results in the two other groups were good but not as brilliant and there, nobody asked to become a soldier. The two other PFCs admitted that Bengi’s method was better than their strict discipline and asked to keep working with him the following year. SSG Kellerman gave his report to the Colonel.
There was a passing out parade for the Volunteers. The Colonel gave out the diplomas for those who got one, other documents for the les happy Volunteers. He had good words for them and thanked the teachers, SSG Kellerman and the three supervisors who were present in their most elegant uniform. When everything was over, the visitors could come and speak with the supervisors.
A young lady, very well dressed, approached Bengi. It was Rosalie. She kissed him and simply said:
"I love you, PFC Giffart."
But Bengi had to reply:
"My love, yesterday I was called to the Colonel’s office. He has my exams results: I have passed them all and I have now enough credits for my first year and even more. So the Colonel decided to send me tomorrow to the Corporal course."
"Do I have to wait till I can kiss CPL Giffart ? or are you free this afternoon, my Bengi love ?"