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The physiotherapist p2 : the reservist by thadeusz
This story consist of 7 parts, this is part 2 and it is suggested to read them in the good order.
p2 : the new reservist
I knew now what I wanted to do next: get a real para brevet, but without having to join the military because I still did not like the discipline and the restrictions imposed on soldiers.
I did not know how to realize my dream. Luckily my friend Michael had a solution:
"If you don’t want to join the real military, why don’t you join the reserve in my brother’s regiment ?"
"Can I do that now ?"
"No, you must be 17 and have your parents agreement. But if you choose the regiment where you accomplished your Military Preparation, I am sure they will take you."
I begged my parents and got the required agreement. As soon as I turned 17 I went to the Military Information Center of Marseille, trying to get a reservist contract for the regiment I already knew as a trainee. I even had a recommendation from the Lieutenant who led this Military Preparation and another one from my Sergeant.
My recommendations, and my good will, served no purpose. There were many candidates for this regiment and moreover I lived too far: the distance between my home and the regiment was 357 km and the absolute limit to be considered as a "usable element" was 350 km. The Officer in the Military Information Center (in fact a recruiting officer) suggested that I tried the 3 RPIMa which was slightly closer from our town. Unfortunately their Reserve Company was already fully booked, with a long waiting list consisting of young boys who like me came from towns situated closer to the regiment. The officer told me that there were other regiments where I could find a place as a reservist, but I wanted an infantry and paratrooper regiment. My hopes to be again in uniform just to get my para brevet and my para wings were quashed!
I went home, rather sad, and started to get ready for the next school year, the year of my BAC. Since I could not become a reservist in the regiment I wanted, I decided to let my beard grow. I also got a mustache. On top of everything, I started to date Sophie, a beautiful girl in my class and she insisted that I let my hair grow a little bit. She loved my mustache because according to her "it gave more salt to your kisses".
About one week later, the same recruiting officer called me and told me:
"Do you still want to become a reservist in an infantry para regiment?"
"Yes, but you told me that it was impossible."
"Well, there is a vacancy in the 2 REP, the para regiment of the Legion."
"But I don’t want to be a legionnaire !"
"That would not be the case, you would simply be a reservist in that regiment, not a legionnaire."
"But, they are in Corsica, far more than 350 km."
"For that regiment, it is irrelevant since you would go by plane from Marseille. But you have to decide rather fast: there are other candidates."
"In that case, I’ll ask my parents’ authorization and I’ll be back to you next Wednesday."
"That’s good for me, but not later than Wednesday."
I got the required authorization from hesitant parents: a stage in a well known para regiment in mainland France was acceptable for a future teacher, but becoming a reservist in the Legion was very different. Anyway, with this authorization I went back to the recruiter and started the long administrative process, which included medical, physical and psychological tests. Finally, I learned that I was accepted and that I would start my initial training on July 13.
I also learned that I was accepted into Marseille University as a student provided I had a BAC. With all that in my pocket I finished learning for my BAC, took the exam and passed it with a mention "VERY GOOD". Sophie also got her BAC, so we went together on a short trip with a small tent and … well you understand me !
I got ready for my Initial Training for Reservists (2 weeks of intensive training). My recruiter told me that a long beard would not be acceptable for a Legion reservist and that I should try to have short hair. So I went to a barber in order to get my beard reduced to a minimum and to have my hair slightly trimmed. The barber did it in a very decent and civilian way. He charged me 30 Euros for that.
On July 11, I got my orders in the mail: I had to take a military plane from Marseille to Calvi, in Corsica, on July 12 at 16:00 precisely. At least that’s how it was written. I was only allowed to take one single bag with me. My bag was ready, my hair had been shortened, my beard had been taken care of and my mustache was now reduced to the strict minimum. I spent a last night with Sophie, had a great breakfast with my anxious parents and left for Marseille Airport. There I met another young guy, about my age, who was also starting to become a Reservist. Contrarily to me, he had not done any Military Preparation but he had very short hair, no beard and no mustache. He told me that his name was Ali Khider, originally from Algeria but now living in Marseille and Frenchman since 6 months. He wanted to join a para regiment as soon as he got his BAC. I was glad to meet one of my future co-reservists. Contrary to what happened during the Military Preparation there was no girl among us: we were going to a Legion regiment !
After a flight which lasted about one hour, we arrived in Calvi where a Corporal received us and said:
"I am going to be one of your leaders during this Initial Training. My name is Corporal Branco and I am a former Legionnaire. When you see me for the first time every morning, you must immediately salute me. Do you know how to do this ?"
I raised my hand and saluted Corporal Branco who asked me:
"Where did you learn to do this?"
"During my Military Preparation, sir."
"I am not a ‘sir’, only a Corporal. Remember that, and you" he turned towards Ali, "learn from your comrade, and quickly".
Ali tried to salute, but did not do it perfectly. This enabled the Corporal to start shouting about the miserable brats we were: I assume it was part of his sketch. We finally were ready and started to walk … towards a jeep waiting for us, in order to bring us to the Camp Raffalli, main camp of the famous 2 REP.
In the camp, we were led to an old building, separated from the others. Above the entrance there was an inscription: "Recruits dorm". They were thus going to treat us as ordinary recruits. Our Corporal led us to a big room with beds for recruits. The Corporal told us that 14 other candidate reservists would arrive the next day: they came later since these lived in Corsica. There would be for all candidates reservistes, two big rooms, each with 8 beds and 8 cupboards, and nothing else. Ali and I were authorized to sleep in the same room.
The Corporal gave each of us a green training suit, green socks and white comfortable sport shoes. He told us to get dressed "as real legionnaires at rest, and quickly". He then left our room.
I recognized the type of uniform I had seen on pictures from the Legion. I also helped Ali to put his things in his cupboard, assuming that it should be done as it was in the regiment where I had been for my Military Preparation.
The Corporal came back after a few minutes and inspected each of us, and each of our respective bags, before letting us join our bed and our cupboard. He seemed satisfied with our bags but he told me:
"Here you must have very short hair, shorter than yours. Notice that beards are not tolerated for new recruits, only for the ‘pioneers’, who must be seasoned legionnaires. It is still time, get that straightened up."
"Can I keep my mustache, Corporal ?"
"It seems small enough for a reservist, so it is OK with me."
So I abandoned Ali and went to the regimental Barber. I asked this legionnaire to cut my hair "according to regulations". According to my previous experience during the Military Preparation, this meant 1mm on the sides and 3mm on top of my head. That was not too bad, but it was much less than what I had kept when I left home … and Sophie. I also asked the barber to shave my beard completely. I knew Sophie would not like that, but I accomplished this sacrifice in order to become a reservist ! I carefully told the barber that I wanted to keep my now shortened mustache. He did all that, rapidly, briskly but without hurting me: he was really a very skilled and experienced barber. After that I went back to our room and went with Ali to the mess hall for our evening meal.
The next day, we were woken up at 05:30 by a strident noise. After gym came cleaning the room and then breakfast time. Ali and I had nothing to do, so we wanted to chat, but Corporal Branco appeared from nowhere and told us:
"A legionnaire who is doing nothing is a legionnaire who is getting ready to do something wrong. You two, start to clean the toilets of the Colonel’s building. ALL the toilets. And in absolute silence."
We worked hard and finished around noon. We got clean and went to the noon mess. After that, we went back to our room where the other candidates had finally arrived.
It was only then that we were taken to the clothing room where we all received our uniforms: several sets of camouflage uniforms and two sets of heavy army para boots. Each of us also got a green beret with the 2 REP emblem on it but still without para wings. In any case, we were not allowed to wear our beret: we had to start with an awful jungle hat, the hat Legion prisoners have to wear, and we had to wear that as long as we had not completed our Initial Training. Those who arrived later directly from Corsica also received the green training suit and the sport shoes.
A Master Sergeant appeared and inspected each of us and as soon as he saw me, he told me:
"Where do you believe that you are now ? This is a Legion Base and recruits must have a zero haircut."
"But Master Sergeant, we are not recruits, only new reservists. Corporal Branco told me that my short mustache was OK as a reservist."
"Girard, you are now under my authority, so don’t make stupid remarks, don’t try to object. OBEY my orders without discussion. Go quickly and have ALL your hair completely shaved."
"But Master Sergeant, before I came I was told I could keep some hair."
"Since you try to protest, you will have to keep this ‘Full Shave’ till the end of your training. You will also get rid of this ridiculous mustache. GO NOW, and be quick there will be more to come for you especially."
I went back to the Barber, who was a Corporal, and asked him to have what I called a "zero cut". This legionnaire replied:
"OK, Master Sergeant Voralek wants you to have a real legion induction cut. Without that stupid mustache ! I can understand that: he is still an active duty legionnaire !"
The Barber made me sit in his chair, caped me since I was now in uniform and started his execution. He was left handed and placed his right hand on the top of my head, pushing hard to have complete control of it, as if it were a simple button commanding moves on a machine. The Barber then took big clippers and started to push them through what was left of hair on my head. In fact this must be corrected: the Barber placed the clippers in a place which seemed convenient for him and, while holding firmly his clippers with his left hand, he pushed my head forward or backwards, towards my left shoulder or my right shoulder in order to have it pass under the clippers, exactly where he wanted it. With his right hand he turned my head after pushing it down or raising it up so that he could get me rid of my last stubble. In fact I must admit that he was not brutal but that he was cleaning my head in a most efficient and economical way, as far as his moves were concerned. When all was done, the Barber took the cape away and told me to stand up and to look in a mirror. I saw a face which looked like mine, but not a single hair, only mini stubbles which I discovered only by passing several times my hands on my head. I was still in uniform and I looked like a prisoner in an American film showing people in a high security prison.
The Corporal Barber pushed me back in his seat while saying:
"Before I joined the Legion I was a farmer in Australia. I specialized in sheep shearing. Now it is legionnaire shearing !" and he started to laugh loudly. He added:
"And now this ridiculous mustache."
While he said that, he had caped me once more. He took an electric shaver and in a few movements he cut my nice and small mustache. Moreover, he took some water, not foam, and wet my face. He took an old fashioned hand razor and methodically shaved all my face. He did neither hurt me nor cut me, but it was really painful. After that he ordered me to pass my hand on my face: I really had a baby face!
The Barber then let me go simply saying, after looking at my name tag:
"Now Girard, you really look like a Legion recruit. You can salute your superior NOW. Go and meet your fate, young legionnaire."
I did not want to join the Legion, but I considered that as an order, so I saluted as I had learned during my Military Preparation, and left this Barber feeling like a freshly shorn sheep. The whole process had not lasted more than 10 minutes, and probably less. But I felt that this was too much for the Master Sergeant so I ran towards my room afraid that the Master Sergeant had decided to use this incident to take me as his scapegoat.
I was right about the Master Sergeant. As soon as I was back to our room he started to shout:
"Finally back Girard. Looking now like a freshly shorn guy. That’s acceptable in this regiment. But you contested my orders, so you must be punished. Give me now 50 perfect pushups because of your bad attitude."
I obeyed in a hurry and I think I did well, but that was not enough. The Master Sergeant went on:
"Girard, and all the others, you chose to become reservists in MY regiment. When he is activated a reservist should not be distinguishable from an active duty man. So as of now, you will all behave as real legionnaires. Otherwise, you will be punished and it will be worse than a few pushups. Real legionnaires who behave badly are sent to the brig. AND that’s very unpleasant ! Now all of you go to the Barber and get the same haircut as Girard."
My comrades left and I was left alone in the room, doing nothing. So the master Sergeant told me to clean both rooms. That’s how I started my first full day as a reservist !
I did not like it, but I realized that I had only one alternative: either leave the regiment or stay and obey the Master Sergeant orders. I chose the latter option ! I started to sweep the floor in both rooms, but rapidly my comrades came back looking now like me.
This initial training lasted two full weeks. During the first week, every other day, the Master Sergeant sent me to the Barber in order to have my head completely shaved and with it my defunct mustache. I didn’t say a word and obeyed this order. At the start of the second week, I decided to ask myself the authorization to go to the Barber. The Master Sergeant gave me his authorization, but he added:
"For the mustache only, Girard. You are too good a reservist to need more."
That was his last comment, but I realized that he actually appreciated my behavior, which was simply based on everything I had learned during my Military Preparation.
After that, I really enjoyed this Initial Training, despite all the tiring exercises we had to do under the Master Sergeant leadership and Corporal Branco’s supervision. Among other things we learned to march in step for a parade, to be on guard duty and to patrol through the streets of a city in order to protect the people against potential terrorists. At the end of these two weeks we were tested on everything we had learned. We got our grades and I learned that I had been ranked first of this group. On that same day we received our berets and I received my first stripe: I was now Reservist First Class. Needless to say, I was very proud of that tiny achievement.
On the plane, back to Marseille, my friend Ali told me that he had loved being in this regiment and that he was thinking of joining the Legion. I told him to get his BAC first and join later if he still wanted it.