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From jungle to desert part 3 by thadeusz
Author's Note: Please read the earlier stories in this Series first, "From Jungle to Desert part 1” and "From Jungle to Desert part 2”. Readers are also warned that since this is a third part, a lot of hair has already been cut and there is thus less haircut description.
In part 1, I describe how I have been forced to join the Legion for 5 years and mislead into believing that a second signature would not force me to stay 10 years. I also describe how I became a paratrooper.
In part 2, I describe how I came to understand what the purpose of the Legion was, and how I started to like my life there.
Let's first go back in time, before we left for Africa.
Normally, in the French Regular Army, soldiers who did not become PFC "on the basis of their merits” like I nearly was, are promoted automatically to PFC after 8 months of service. In the legion, it is different: it is after 12 months, but only if they behaved well. In fact in the French Army, PFC is not a "rank”, it is a "distinction”. This means that a PFC has no authority on a PVT, but he has a slightly better pay. In the Legion, he has less chores to do and slightly more liberty. I thus hoped to be promoted to PFC in July, after one year of service, counting the time I "served” in Guiana. I considered it as my right to bank on this since it was precisely that time of "temporary service” that had finally forced me to join the Legion for at least 5 years, and then for 10. But the Legion is very logical and counts only its own way. The General had decided to validate my two contracts, but he had also kindly decided that my first contract would not be taken in account before the second one was completed. This way, my 20 days in the brig would only become part of my "Legion file” and be visible by all my chiefs after I had had time to show that I was a good legionnaire. I realized in June that I would not become PFC in July when I was reminded by a narrow minded CPL that I had to do chores since "I had only 6 months of service”. Indeed, I had signed my second contract on November 3. So I waited for November, hoping to receive then that "Distinction” and become PFC.
Most of my comrades became PFC on November 1st and there was a little ceremony during which the Colonel gave them their first stripe. It was followed by a drink in their honor. Karl, another legionnaire of my room, and me were excluded from that ceremony and drink. It was understandable for Karl: he had already spent 26 days in the brig since he signed his contract and he had been warned that he might be sentenced to more, which would lead him to much more time in a real military prison, worse than the brig, to reeducate him. But I was precisely not in that case: I had only the 8 days in the brig I received for asking the permission to buy books and resume my studies at night. So why had they excluded me ?
I was soon to know why. The next day, my Company CPT called me in his office:
"Dromard, I don't understand you. You had an excellent file when you arrived here and you behave perfectly during the para training, but now you behave relatively badly. You do just the minimum to avoid being punished, but you don't provide that extra effort that would give you a promotion. I feel that in fact you don't like the Legion and you are no longer happy being a legionnaire. But nobody asked you to become one.” In fact the CPT had no access to my complete and real file, so he continued:
"Now you are a legionnaire, and for a long time, at least four more years. So take it and get the best out of it. You are constantly sad and you remain lonely, without any real friend. You are intelligent, you can do much better. So accept your fate and be a happy and enthusiastic legionnaire since legionnaire you must be.”
I realized that there was no point in showing to everybody that I hated being a legionnaire, since I knew fairly well that I had to be here not during 4 more years, but during nearly 9 years. I also remembered my friend Armando's words, when he said that I had to make efforts "from the outside” to smile until I would naturally feel the urge to smile "from the inside”. So I decided to show more enthusiasm for the tasks I was told to accomplish, for the training I had to do, for my life as a legionnaire in general. During several exercises I tried to show my willingness by trying to be the best one. According to my LT, I behaved better, now with some enthusiasm, even if it was simulated. In fact I was somber and sad and had no real friend, but I tried to make some. Drinking beers and eating pizzas coming from the Company Bar was a good way to do so. And what Armando had predicted started to occur: I felt better "from my inside”. I became an efficient legionnaire, since I accomplished rapidly and correctly everything I was told to do. But that did not make me an enthusiastic legionnaire, happy and joyful, and proud of his uniform: I had the impression that my presence in the Legion, and the Legion in general served no purpose.
Despite my efforts to satisfy the CPT and the LT, I was not promoted to PFC and I spent my second Christmas in the Legion as a very ordinary PVT, the only one of our section since Karl, who was also still a PVT, had been sentenced to 3 months "reeducation”, which meant ‘hard labour'.
I used all possible communication means to remain in contact with my parents, in fact I was writing to Mother and she was the only one to answer: I guessed that Father was angry because I had been trapped in the Legion. I was still under several special restrictions and was not allowed to leave the camp (a frequent restriction for "bad” legionnaires) nor to use my pay freely: I had to ask each time to a Master Corporal the authorization for each Euro I wanted to spend. I was still under the assumed name the Legion had imposed upon me, "Jérôme Dromard” and I did not like it. As soon as I had had one year of service, under my second and (provisionally) officially only contract, I had asked to be allowed to take back my real name. But the authorization did not arrive and would probably not arrive rapidly.
Then came my second Legion Christmas. As usually we had all to be present in the regiment mess hall where the feast took place. It was not really joyful for me but not as bad as the first time. I did not feel that I would like to cry, but I counted "8 more left only”.
At the end of January, we left urgently for Africa and as I have said in the 2nd part of these stories, I finally understood the purpose of the Legion, and I also understood that, even if I had not chosen this life, even if they could have done as well without me, I now had a real role. I could live with the fact that I now had a purpose in life. I became, without realizing it immediately, a very seriously fighting soldier. In fact the turning point occurred one morning: I noticed that a rebel was threatening my LT who had not seen anything. I reacted, without really thinking, by bumping into the LT pushing him on the ground and doing the necessary with the rebel. The LT looked at me and I realized that I had, rather brutally, pushed an officer, which is a crime in the Legion. I did not apologize, one does not apologize in the Legion, one accepts the consequences of a bad behavior. I simply said:
"At your command, LT, for bumping into you and pushing you”, and the LT replied:
"We will discuss that when we are back in Corsica, Dromard. For the time being, we have other business awaiting us.”
After that, I felt much better. I knew I might be punished for pushing an officer, but I also knew I had saved him. Now my life as a legionnaire had a meaning.
We came back from Africa, all of us, and very proud of what we had done. We paraded through the streets of Calvi, the nearest town, in BDU and green beret, to show how we were when we fighted for France.
After this mission in Africa, all the men of my Company had a 3 weeks leave. Nobody had called me to punish me for bumping into the LT instead of doing something else to save him, so I thought that it was forgotten and that my leave was saved. The day before our leave was due to start, I went to the Master Corporal and asked him the permission to take some money from my own account: I was still under several restrictions. The master Corporal looked at me and said:
"Dromard, your hair is too long. First you get a serious haircut.”
It was normal for me to have long hair: we did not have time to have regulation haircuts during our mission, but the Master Corporal was not with us. I had hoped to be allowed to avoid having a haircut just before going on leave, but since the Master Corporal wanted me to go to the barber, I had no choice. I nevertheless asked the barber to avoid "cutting it too short”, but he replied that he had received orders. I then remembered that I still had to "pay” for bumping into the LT. So I resigned myself to go on leave with a completely shorn head. I sat in the barber's chair, he caped me, turned the chair so that I could not see in the mirror and I closed my eyes awaiting for the end of this other and unnecessary trial. The barber put his clippers on and I could feel the metal on my neck. He then turned my head left and right in order to shave the sides completely. He then pulled, as usually, my head backwards but instead of letting his clippers go straight through my hair, from front to back, he let his instrument go along my forehead. This was an unexpected move and I wondered what the result would be, expecting the worse since the orders had been given by a master Corporal who really did not like me. The barber turned my head more slowly and more gently than usual, he was not as brutal as usually when he pushed it forward. He did not really use his clippers in the same way as the other times and I really started to be really curious about the result of this rather unexpectedly long haircut. After a certain time, which appeared very long to me, the Barber turned again the chair and told me with his unmistakable Spanish accent:
"Look now. I hope you like it.”
I looked and I could see that he had given me a simple buzzcut, a really short one, correct according to Legion regulations, but not a very short one. My hair was now shorter than when I started, but also much longer than what I had expected when I entered the barber's room. Moreover it did not leave me with a shorn head. Suddenly I became aware of the fact that this was the type of haircut a "young legionnaire” like me was not allowed to have, unless he was a PFC, which was not the case. I was afraid the Master Corporal had given orders to the barbers in such a way that I would be in trouble: this haircut might put my leave in jeopardy. So I asked the barber:
"Did the Master Corporal tell you to give me such a haircut ?”
"No, it was not the Master Corporal, it was your LT. He also told me to remind you that you must go as soon as possible to the CPT's office.”
I was not sure I understood what was happening. So I did what a good legionnaire must do in such cases to limit the risks: I put on my dress uniform, got ready and went to the CPT's office. There the CPT looked at me and told me:
"Nice haircut Dromard. Excellent for a PFC going on leave. By the way, since this morning, you are PFC. Here are your new shoulder boards with one nice green stripe, put them on immediately and adjust your sleeve insignia. Go now and have a good leave, I will need you here as soon as you come back.”
So I put on my new shoulder board boards, saluted the CPT in the required way and left his office, not having said a word. I went back to the Master Corporal who was smiling and I got all the money I wanted from my Legion bank account, the only bank account I was allowed to have as legionnaire. I bought beer for my room comrades in honor of my first stripe. Finally I got ready for my first leave since nearly two years (counting my time in Guiana as time of service). The next day, immediately after the roll-call, I left the Camp, alone and in civvies, for the first time since a very long time!
Since I was still "Jérôme Dromard”, I could not have real identity papers and travel outside France. I decided to spend most of my leave with relatives near Paris. My parents came with the twins. The first thing Father said was:
"I had told you that this "on-the-job-training” with the legionnaires was a bad idea, now you are stuck there without your BAC. At least you don't have that dreadful long hair anymore.”
"Father, my hair has been shorter.”
"And you accepted that, my boy ?”
"Father, I had no choice, they forced me to have a shorn head.”
Father did not react, looking really astonished and disgusted simultaneously. Mother had kinder words for me. She said that she admired my bearing, that I really looked like an adult and other admirative words. She added:
"I hope it was not too painful or too dangerous during that mission. Do you now feel better than last time about being a legionnaire ?”
Before I could react Father, to whom Mother had apparently told nothing about my tears during Camerone day, and my second contract, exclaimed in a very definitive tone:
"In any case, it won't be long anymore before you are a free civilian again!”
At that moment, and for the first time, I told him that I had to stay in the Legion during 5 more years than foreseen and I explained why. There was a big silence and nothing more was said about it, but I could see that Father did not like the idea and that Mother was rather anxious about the fact that I might get wounded, or worse. After a time, Father asked :
"You signed a second contract ? Why, Pierre ?” Father had used my real first name so I specified:
"Father, that was the day after I was shipped to Aubagne. A Captain told me there that it would be better for me and that my first contract would be canceled. That's the moment when I received my Legion name: Jérôme Dromard.”
"And is it better like that, Pierre ?”
"It is not. They did not cancel the first contract. I made a mistake when I signed the first time, but it is too late to change that. Since I have to live in Legion during many more years, I want to do it honorably. I don't like my Legion name, but it is the only name my comrades know for me. So I want it to be respected. Please Father, don't make things more difficult for me by calling me here ‘Pierre' when I know that after the end of my leave I will be called ‘Jérôme' by everybody.”
Mother, who had not told father that she was writing to ‘legionnaire Jérôme Dromard' tried to calm things down. Father did no longer call me ‘Pierre', but neither did he call me ‘Jérôme'. Despite all that, I had an excellent leave with my family.
When I came back to the regiment, after this period during which I felt free again, I was told to go immediately to the Colonel's office. Usually, that meant that the concerned legionnaire would be punished for one or another reason. I was not anxious, I knew I had done my job well during the mission and that I had had no opportunity to make a mistake after and thus be punished.
When I entered the Colonel's office, my LT was there and that reminded me that I had bumped into him and pushed him brutally to the ground. The Colonel, to my great surprise, said:
"Dromard, is it true that you bumped into an officer while in Africa ?”
I started smelling a rat, I knew now that I had to expect a punishment. Probably many days in the brig. But I could only give one answer:
"Did you do it purposely ?”
"Did you know that you could be severely punished for that ? This type of action is strictly forbidden by the Legion tradition ?”
"Yes Colonel, I knew it was forbidden.”
"Did you do it to save him from a rebel ?”
"Yes Colonel. It was bad to bump into an officer, but I could not imagine a better way to protect and save the LT. If it was a mistake, I am at your command for disobeying the Legion tradition.”
"Dromard, according to your LT, you behaved extremely well during this dangerous mission. I have asked that you get a medal for that.”
The Colonel looked at my file and said:
"According to your file, you don't have two years of service yet.”
That was true for the Colonel since he only had access to my second contract, but in fact with the 4 months spent in Guiana, I just had slightly more than 2 years of service with the Legion. I said nothing and the Colonel continued:
"You have not been a very enthusiast legionnaire until now. But according to your LT that seemed to have changed during this mission. Normally, I would never send such a reluctant young legionnaire to the corporal course, but your LT told me that you are now exactly the man the Legion needs as CPL. So, get immediately ready with your bags because you leave tomorrow for the corporal course. Go now and have a haircut, after this leave your hair is really too long. UNDERSTOOD ?”
"Yes Colonel” and I saluted, put my White Kepi on my head and left the Colonel's office, feeling much better, but not really realizing what was happening to me. I went to the barber and asked him to refresh my haircut, which he did without cutting too much hair. Once again I had the buzzcut he gave me just before I left for my leave. I was on the verge of leaving the barber when I realized what was happening to me. I felt that the buzzcut the barber had given me would not be sufficient for the corporal course, so I told him:
"CPL, I must leave soon for the corporal course, can you give me a more adapted haircut ?”
"Sure, but you won't like it, and it will cost you twice as much for two haircuts.”
"Well, do what has to be done, but not more please.”
The Barber got hold of me, gave my head the usual pushing, pulling and turning. Very rapidly he left me with a shorn head, and charged me for two haircuts that day.
The corporal course was very unpleasant, really gruesome but I survived and finished first of the group. This let me hope a further promotion to "Master Corporal” in a "Near Future”, a "Near Future” in the Legion for an enlisted man means "Within 3 or 4 years, and with another contract”, but since I already had a second contract and many years to serve, all hopes were left to me …
I now had two green stripes on my sleeves and on my shoulder boards. Life became easier. When I came back from the corporal course, I was still in the same room of four, but I had no chores anymore. I had to go and appear in front of the Colonel, once more, but I was certain that he had no reason to punish me. Indeed, the Colonel congratulated me:
"Congratulations CPL Dromard. Your behavior during the corporal course proved that I was right to trust you. I have thus decided to lift all the restrictions I had imposed on you.”
Now that all restrictions had been lifted, I could go out of the Camp whenever I wanted, provided that I was not on duty and that the Master Corporal or the Sergeant guarding the main gate considered that I was properly dressed. This included the haircut: I got use to go every two weeks to the barber and get the same short, but not excessively short, buzzcut.
The first time I was allowed to go alone, through the streets, was a marvelous moment: before being tricked into the Legion, I used to love having strolls through the streets of my town, Cayenne. Now I could again have similar strolls, but in dress uniform, through the streets of Calvi. Before I had only been allowed to go through these streets when I was on a parade, contrarily to my comrades who went freely as simple legionnaires. I first went alone to a bar and enjoyed simply sitting there and drinking a beer. Then I thought about the girls. In Cayenne, I had banked on my curls to attract them, would I still be able to do so with a buzzcut ? I tried, and it was a success ! I was happy ! Life here became slowly very different. I changes often girlfriend until I met Françoise, a saleswoman in a bookshop. She was simply wonderful and we started to do more than walk, or dance, or drink together.
But there was less pleasant news. The central administration had processed my papers and my application to use again my real name was denied: they consider that since I am in fact French, I might be tempted to desert. So I remained "CPL Jérôme Dromard” and I will confess that I did not mind anymore: "Jérôme Dromard” had become the name to which I was used now, after all that time.
The Company was again sent to Africa. We were trying to protect the population from potential rebels. The weather was very hot and dry. We were stationed during 3 weeks in an outpost, far in the desert, with very little water and no electricity, and then came back during one week to the base camp where we had water, showers, electricity and internet to contact our relatives. I sent regularly messages to Mother and several messages every day to Françoise. Then it was again three weeks in the desert followed by a week in the base camp, and all that during 4 long months far from my best beloved.
While we were in the outpost, beards had to be shaven regularly, using a mechanical razor, with a relatively sharp blade, but nothing was done or requested for our hair. My hair grew long, which at first rejoiced me. But since we had to wear constantly our helmet, it was becoming very uncomfortable because of heat and of the sweat it provoked. So as soon as we were back to the base camp, I called one of the legionnaires placed under my orders and asked:
"Sven, do you have electric clippers?”
"Then take them and shave my head, I can't stand it anymore.”
"I have never done that for another person CPL”
"Well, there is always a first time and this is an order.”
That's how I had my head shorn once again. When we came back I wondered what Françoise would say about it, since it would take a certain time to grow back. But she simply said:
"You have told me about the curls you had to attract girls and I have never seen them. But this is simply wonderful. You have never been as sexy as that !”
So from then on I kept my head shorn, not because it was an order of one of my superiors, but because it was for the sake of the woman I loved. Maybe she wanted to avoid having a rival !
Many things had happened as far as I am concerned during our mission in Africa.
We had had our Legion Christmas while we were in Africa: everything was done according to the tradition. Now I was really joyful because I come to enjoy my life as legionnaire and because of the woman who was waiting for me in Corsica.
During our mission, my LT told me to ask again to be allowed to have my own name. In fact, I did not really want it anymore, but the LT told me that it might be important for the future of my relation with Françoise in case we wanted to get married. So, I asked and when I came back I was notified by the Colonel that it had been accepted:
"CPL, the Legion has accepted to allow you to wear your real name again. But that means that I now know that you have signed two contracts. They have been united in one big 10 year contract starting on the day you signed your first contract in Kourou. It also implies that I now know that you have 4 months more of service with the Legion, 4 months for which you have never received any pay. You will received this pay very soon.”
All that was good news, but the Colonel had more to say:
"It also means that I know that you have spent 20 days in the brig in Guiana, and for very serious motives. According to your LT you behave well now. I will nevertheless keep an eye on you. You may leave now, CPL Delfaille.”
We had another leave and since I was now again "Pierre Delfaille”, I could go to Cayenne and visit my family. I went there with Françoise and everything went well.
I stayed then more than a year in the regiment. I was now allowed sometimes to sleep outside the regiment, with Françoise, but not to marry her, which we both wanted. After a few months, I received a medal for my first mission and the pay for my first four months in the legion also arrived, but late ! There was another Legion Christmas with more joy for me and less melancholy: I simply missed Françoise.
I did routine work in the regiment, but as CPL I was also in charge of training new paratroopers and I tried to make them understand the purpose of what we were doing: be constantly ready.
When I came back after another leave I realised that I had now been in the Legion during nearly 4 years and that a normal legionnaire would see the end of his 5 years contract, but I still had to start my other contract. I had now a girlfriend, but she did not really like military life.
It is at that moment that I was told that I had been selected for the Sergeant Course, which would make me an NCO. It was exceptional to be selected for that course after only 4 years of service and it proved that my chiefs had a good opinion of me. But it also meant that I would have to sign another 3 years contract. That implied that I would have to stay in the Legion until I reached the age of 30 and leave the Legion without any diploma or civilian qualification. I realized that practically it implied that I would have to stay in the Legion for ever, until I reached the age of retirement. I knew that my girlfriend would not approve that and I asked the permission to think about it. This gave me lots of time hoping that the idea would disappear from my Colonel's and Captain's mind.
I did not have that much time. A few days later, I was summoned in the Colonel's office and he asked me:
"CPL Delfaille, did you make up your mind about becoming SGT ?”
"Colonel, I would really prefer to remain CPL.”
"First because I am not sure I would like the administrative part of a Sergeant's job, and second because I would have to sign a new 3 year contract and that would not enable me to leave the Legion before I am 30.”
"You still don't like the Legion, Delfaille ?”
"Yes Colonel, now I do like being here. In the beginning I did not, but my first mission to Africa made me change my point of view. But Françoise, my companion, does not like me being a soldier.”
"Delfaille, in your platoon, there is a PFC who has more than 7 years of service. He has signed a contract for 4 more years. He was CPL like you but refused to become SGT: he wanted to become Master Corporal and no more because he liked the action only. He was demoted for that reason and will remain PFC till the end of his contract. You have still more than 5 years of contract, do you want to spend them as PFC ?”
"In that case you will leave next Monday for the Sergeant course. Sign here your additional contract.”
I signed this additional contract hoping Françoise would not mind too much, but spending the nearly 6 years I still owed to the Legion as PVT or PFC was not acceptable for me. As soon as I had signed, the Colonel added:
"You can tell your girlfriend that as soon as you come back with your SGT stripes, you can marry her, something you cannot do as simple CPL in the Legion.”
I told that to Françoise and she accepted my new contract. I went to the SGT course which was even more grueling than the CPL course. When I came back with my golden stripes, my Colonel gave me the order to buy books and to study in order to have my BAC, a strong one in sciences and not a vocational one. He told me:
"I know you will work well as a SGT. Work just as well to get your BAC, you have two years to do that. Then you will try to be admitted in the Officer school and you will become a fine Legion officer. But work well, remember that if you fail at your exams, you will be sent to the brig, be demoted and serve the rest of the now 8 years you owe to the Legion as PVT or PFC.” It is always like that in the Legion: failure is not an option and if a legionnaire fails, he is demoted and sent to the brig.
I studied and got my BAC. Father was really pleased when I announced them the good news. He wrote me a letter, the first one since I had become legionnaire. Françoise and me got married. I immediately started to study for the entrance exam to the officer school: I did not want to fail, and now I wanted to become officer, I had a special reason for that. Françoise and I had done everything we had to do, and after a short time my wife was pregnant and I was a very happy future father.
Since I was SGT, I now had the right to sleep outside the regiment. I remembered that I had taken music lessons when I was boy and a teenager, so I asked the permission to buy a saxophone. In the Legion, enlisted men and NCOs must ask the permission whenever they want to spend a lot of money: this enables the Legion to control what's happening and to prevent the legionnaires to spend their money foolishly. But a saxophone was considered as a reasonable buy and I got the requested permission. I trained with my new instrument and used it to enchant and seduce my wife.
Everything went well for me, I could not believe it !
One day, a detachment of the Music of the Legion, the "Musique de la Légion Etrangère” or MLE, came to Calvi and gave a concert. In the evening, they organized a sort of ball outside the barracks and the women and companions were allowed to come. I asked the CPT commanding this detachment, the permission to get my saxophone and join the others. I was told that it would be fine, so I got my saxophone and played. In fact I was not used to play in a group, so I played as soloist several pieces of jazz I liked. Françoise danced and liked it. At the end, the CPT asked me:
"SGT, how come you play so well ?”
"CPT, as a boy and a teenager, I took music lessons.”
"For the saxophone ?”
"No, that was one of my wife's suggestions. So I learned alone while training.”
"So SGT, you are able to learn alone how to play an instrument ?”
"Well, CPT, apparently I am, at least if you like my way of playing the saxo.”
"I like it very much, SGT, and I wish I could listen more to you playing such an instrument.”
A few days later, I was called to the Colonel's office. He simply told me:
"SGT, you have been transferred to the MLE, in Aubagne. Prepare your bags, you leave tomorrow morning.”
"But, Colonel, what about my exam for the officer school ?”
"It is canceled. You are no longer going to become an officer. You are now going to serve the Legion as musician and no longer as paratrooper.”
"But my wife and my future child ?”
"Do as you are told, Delfaille, or I will have to send you to the brig. I will regret you: you are now a fine legionnaire and an excellent SGT. If you don't like becoming a musician, you must know that everything that will happen when you reach the MLE is your fault : you should not have tried to show off with your saxophone in front of the CPT of the MLE ! Now, GO.”
I did not know what would happen in the MLE and I did not think that it really mattered: I was now, at least temporarily, separated from my wife and I would probably not be allowed to be present for the birth of my child. I also had to leave the men of my detachment, men with whom I had now strong bonds.
So, I made my bags and left Françoise, hoping it would only be for a very short time. When I arrived in Aubagne, I was sent to the COL in charge of the MLE. He greeted me and added:
"Of course, you realize you are not going to join the MLE as SGT. The MLE is an elite orchestra and you can only become SGT here after passing successfully a very difficult exam. I cannot let you keep your CPL stripes: you have proven that you are a good musician as soloist, but we don't know if you can play as element of an orchestra. You will first abandon all your stripes and join the MLE as PVT. That is what all the musicians, who are part of this great orchestra, have done. If you show that you can learn rapidly the type of music we play here, and play as element of an orchestra, I will give you back your PFC stripe. In a ‘near future', you might again be a CPL. But, to become SGT, you must pass this very difficult exam, so it will take you a certain time.”
"Colonel, with your permission, what will happen to my wife and my future child ?”
"As simple legionnaire, you don't have the right to have a wife and a child. Consider yourself temporarily demoted to PVT and do your best to regain your stripes. Of course, for the time being, you will be treated as ‘young legionnaire': you will have to do all the chores and also you will have to sleep in the barracks. You will not be allowed to leave the barracks, except when the CPT leading your group tells you that you can do it, and it will again be in uniform.”
"Colonel, excuse me but I do not understand: I was preparing an exam to become officer, I was SGT and now you tell me that I am temporarily demoted although I did nothing against the rules ?”
"Legionnaire Delfaille, remember that you have signed to have the honor to serve the Legion as the Legion sees best for her. You have now the opportunity to enter an elite orchestra. Losing your stripes and being again a PVT is the price you have to pay for joining the MLE now instead of joining it at the end of your Basic Training.”
"COL, what about my CPL and SGT brevets, are they lost and shall I have to do these courses again ?”
"For the time being you keep your CPL and SGT brevets, but you cannot use them anymore. If you keep refusing to comply to my orders, you will be permanently demoted. Go now, get the appropriate badges instead of these stupid paratrooper badges and get a uniform which you can use during concerts. Also, adapt your haircut as soon as possible: in the MLE, shorn heads are not tolerated.”
I left his office, went to the clothing warehouse where I got an adapted PVT uniform and called Françoise. She cried more than I thought she would. She then tried to come near Aubagne, but could not find a job in the neighborhood. So we agreed, by mail, that she should stay in Corsica and keep her job there: my pay had been seriously reduced, since I was now a PVT, and we needed money for the baby.
Well that's the life I have now, as Legion musician, going with the orchestra from place to place for the glory of the Legion ! I am now a PFC in the MLE, playing trumpet in the orchestra when told to do so: they think that I am better with a trumpet for military musics but I can use my own saxophone when I am ordered to give jazz solo. My other stripes are gone and I am not allowed, for the sake of uniformity of the orchestra, to wear my paratrooper wings, except when I am allowed to go out on free time, of course in uniform since I am a PFC !
I don't see very often my wife and my newborn son, and I am not allowed to call them "my wife” or "my son” in public. I feel I am NOW in a real desert, without real comrades: I hate music but I must keep playing, and as well as possible, if I want to become a CPL again. I don't even dream of regaining my golden SGT stripes.
All that because I wanted to play saxophone to please my wife and let her dance in front of the legionnaires.