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The physiotherapist p1 : the boy by thadeusz
This story consists of 7 parts. It is suggested to read them in the correct order
p1 : Military preparation
My name is André Girard. My parents, Pierre and Jacqueline Girard, live in Aubagne. They have a small shop my father inherited from his parents. They did not want that type of life for me, so they literally "pushed" me to study a lot. They hoped to make me a teacher. Therefore, they chose for me what was considered as the best high school: the Lycée Sainte Marie. In my eyes, there was a big problem: it was (and still is) a private catholic school and I don’t like religious schools because there, students have to pray every day. It nevertheless had a big advantage: it was close to the place where we lived.
I was a good student but when I was 16, I really did not know what I actually wanted to do later in life. I was more or less certain that I did not want to become a teacher, nor a shopkeeper, but that was it. One of my school friends, Michael, told me about his brother who was so happy in the Army. I was not sure I wanted to join the military, because of all the constraints I heard about that, but Michael suggested that I try to do a Military Préparation. At that time I had a long dark brown mane.
I succeeded to convince my parents to let me go to such a Military Preparation: I went to the Information and Recruitment Center of my town and asked for information about a Military Preparation for the coming summer, as close as possible to Marseille. The Adjutant in charge told me that all the Military Preparations in the region were already fully booked, but that he could try something very special : he was willing to arrange things so that I could go to a Paratrooper Military Preparation in the 8 RPIMa. He added:
"Such Military Preparations are usually reserved for students in Military High Schools, high schools organized by the Army. But there are still a few places there. If you are ready for that, you will need a special authorization from both your parents."
My parents agreed and I had the possibility to start this Military Preparation on July 15. The convocation said that it would last 3 weeks with pre-Paratrooper training: it was thus a "Préparation Militaire Parachutiste" (PMP). It was organized by a well known regiment: the 8 RPIMa in Castres (not next door from Marseille), but I did not care, my father had promised to drive me on the eve of the day before it actually started. On my "to do" list was a mention I did not really like: "Considering the importance of appropriate helmets during the jumps, and of other head protections, the candidate must take care of his haircut before coming to the PMP and be aware that the officers can impose on him a very short haircut."
As soon as I arrived, I received three sets of comfortable camouflage uniforms, and other pieces of equipment but only two pairs of rangers. I had reorganized my mane into a ponytail : my hair was now tied together with an elastic. But that was not sufficient for the Sergeant. He told me that I had to fold my ponytail in a hairnet he provided as if I were a girl. He then attached the hairnet. He added:
"You are not allowed to open this hairnet during the three weeks of the PMP. If you open it, I will personally shave completely your head. By the way, since you need a hairnet as if you were a girl, I will call you Pierrette."
Luckily, the Sergeant was a good man and did not go further with this threat, he called me André during the whole three weeks !
I was the first trainee to arrive in the regiment, so the Sergeant, Sergeant Berckman, appointed a Corporal to help. He chose Corporal Dreden who was not much older than I was and we rapidly became friends. Corporal Dreden showed me how to make my bed, how to salute and how to march. All that was on the program on our second day, but since I was there before the others, Dreden gave me an advanced course. He also told me that, with my "mane in a hairnet" I was completely ridiculous. But I resisted his suggestions to go to the camp Barber. Finally, we had dinner together in the non-commissioned soldiers mess.
The other trainees arrived on the next morning, as foreseen. We made a good group of 27 cadets, staying in two rooms of 16 each. It was the first time I slept in such a big group, but I did not mind, even when I realized that most of them came from the same Military School and knew already many of the ropes.
The weather was good, and even very hot. After one week, I realized that my mane was more bulky than anything else, in any case it kept me too hot under the uniform cap. I resisted a little bit and eventually I gave up: I asked Sergeant Berckman:
"Sergeant, could you please shave my head ?"
The Sergeant looked at me and replied:
"Do you really mean it ?"
"Yes Sergeant, it is too hot."
That’s when the Sergeant took me to the regimental barber to whom he whispered something. The Barber, a Master Corporal, made me a sign showing me to sit on one of his chairs. He caped me and started to work.
He first opened and took away my hairnet. He then cut the elastic keeping my hair closely together. He had a very professional look and had only one word to describe what he saw:
He then started to bring my hair together again in order to cut my ex-ponytail with his scissors. He went on, on the left and on the right and eventually on the top of my head, using his scissors and a comb. Finally he cut the excess of hair in the back and on the nape. Eventually he took his clippers to clean my hair around my ears and to taper the lot on the sides, back and nape. He then let me admire my more military acceptable, short but not too short haircut inspired by one of Jack Gyllenhaal’s pictures. I had had the possibility to observe the transformation and I did not stop him. In fact, I admired this "new me" and I definitely adopted it.
When I came back to our group of trainees, the others made a little bit of fun with my new haircut, saying that it had taken me a long time before I really became a sort of "acceptable" military trainee. We ended the day, with the Sergeant and the Corporal, in one of the company bars inside the Camp. We all drank beer, which is legal for boys and girls aged 17 in France.
Our group worked well together, and I was a more positive element after my drastic haircut! We also had the opportunity to shoot with a real rifle, but we had to keep that rifle permanently (and it was heavy). We did lots of sport activities, many marches, longer and longer with time. These marches were first done with empty hands, later with a small bag and on the last day we had a 12 kilos bag to be carried on a 20 km march, in two days, with a short night rest under our tents in the woods. During each of these marches we had to carry our (empty) rifle, which added nearly 4 kilos to be carried.
I also learned what I really came for: how to fall, which was the basis of our young para training. We jumped several times from a not very high tower, we also learned how to spring out of an airplane and finally we jumped twice: first from a fixed balloon and later from a very low flying plane, but a moving plane.
At the end there was a parade in front of the officers and I received a certificate of attendance and a red beret, but not the coveted para wings.