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The physiotherapist p4 : Induction by thadeusz
This story consists of 7 parts. It is suggested to read them in good order
The physiotherapist p4 : Induction
Three weeks later, I celebrated my 22nd birthday with Sophie and I promised not to go as often as before to my regiment. About a week later, I received a letter instructing me to come urgently to Aubagne, in civvies, for "administrative business to be completed before you start the training you asked for".
I was very happy and left immediately for the regiment mentioned in my convocation letter. I was in civvies, as instructed (probably to avoid terrorists), but I had a big bag with my Master Corporal uniform in it. I warned my family and Sophie that I might be absent during a certain time.
In this "administrative regiment" I showed my letter, as instructed and was immediately led to the office of the Colonel in charge of incorporations. A Sergeant told me to enter, but I wanted to put on my reservist uniform before appearing in front of the powerful man. The Sergeant told me to enter immediately without losing time.
Once in the Colonel’s office, I saluted (despite the fact that I was in civvies) and apologized for that, but the Colonel told me that it did not matter anymore. He added:
"I know that you have been an excellent reservist, ready to become Sergeant. That’s why I really want to congratulate you especially for asking to be allowed to become an active duty legionnaire."
I immediately replied : "Colonel, I don’t understand. There must be a misunderstanding. I only wanted to have the full para training."
"Your Colonel used the only possible way to give you this para training. He used the fact that you have been a good reservist during more than 3 years and he thus asked the General to let you join, without selection, as active duty legionnaire. He also obtained for you a future assignment in the paratrooper regiment."
"That means that I would have to serve the Legion for 5 years ?"
"But I don’t want to do that."
"You signed a form mentioning the fact that you were ready to join the Legion. I have this form here." He started searching in a big file on his desk. Finally he pointed to a piece of paper and he said: "That’s it"
"No, Colonel. I am in my probation period. The six months period is not over, so I can resign immediately."
"You know very well that you have served as a reservist much more than six months. Your case is closed: you will serve as active duty Legionnaire during a period of at least 5 years. If you keep objecting, you will be sent to the brig as a deserter. You will be tried and since you are in fact French, the sentence will be worse for you. The time spent in the brig will not be counted in your 5 years."
That was correct and I knew it, so I kept quiet realizing that I had signed the wrong form while I was drunk.
The Colonel turned towards the Sergeant and told him:
"Take this guy where you usually start with the new recruits and give him the appropriate clothes and all the rest. Whether he likes it or not, he is a Legion Recruit now !"
The Colonel turned again towards me and added:
"Considering your good service as reservist, the General had authorized me to reduce your Initial Training to the time spent in the Farm, the time needed to get your White Kepi. But I see today that you were not completely under control, you are not yet completely trained in Legion discipline. You will thus do the complete Initial Training, like all the other recruits."
"But Colonel, what about my studies ?"
"You are doomed to be a Legionnaire now, the rest is just litterature."
"Can I warn my parents now and ask them to take the proper steps ?"
"Recruit, you should know that as of now you are no longer allowed to communicate with the outside world before you graduate from Initial training."
And then came the end:
"Sergeant, take this waste the General has admitted away from my eyes."
The Sergeant took me to his office and looked at a little notebook. He then said:
"Your name is from now on ‘Armand Grohman’. You are 22 years old, Belgian and you come from Liège, a french speaking city."
At that instant I fully realized that I had been fooled into this full legionnaire para training! They were not going to give me this expensive training for nothing! I was in now and for good. And I really did not like it. But I knew that if I kept objecting, I would be sent to the brig as a deserter and then have anyway to serve during five years. I had no other choice than accepting, reluctantly, this situation.
The Sergeant took me then to the entrance building and told me to get completely naked. He also took all my possessions, except for 50 Euros. He then gave me white undies, white socks, a blue jumpsuit like the one Ali and I got on our first day in Reserve training and white tennis shoes. He added to that the usual Legion bedding that I now had to carry to what would be my room.
He then instructed me to stay with the candidate recruits and forbade me to tell them that I had already been selected. I had thus to take all the tests with them, medical tests, sport tests, intellectual tests and psychological tests. The results of these tests were irrelevant in my case, but certainly not in the cases of the real candidates legionnaire.
In any case, I spent my time with the other candidates doing tests and answering questions during individual interviews (including the security interview during which I was scolded for giving my real name and date of birth). There were also lots of chores, and these had nothing military. Knowing the legion, I expected these chores and was not surprised, but this was not the case of most of my companions.
This period of tests and questions lasted for about two weeks. During that time, I made friends with the guy who was in the bed next to mine. He was (and still is) a South African about my age who did not succeed to join the Army in his own country because he was White. So he came to France, saying he was a tourist in order to get a 90 days visa. He then went to Aubagne where he asked to be admitted into the Legion. That’s where we met. His Legion name is Wouter Kruger. He told me at night that his real name was Wilhelm Korner.
One morning our Sergeant, the legionnaire who had transformed me from an ordinary reservist into a candidate legionnaire, told us to stand in formation, at attention, looking straightforward to the horizon "whatever was going to happen". The Sergeant inspected each of us, noticed that three were not wearing their jumpsuits as required by his rules and that one of us was badly shaved. All four had to do push-ups and run to the rooms in order to get that straight. During the minutes it took to straighten the situation the others, and I was one of the "lucky ones", had to stay, motionless in the position of attention. My comrades all knew that they would soon know whether they were selected or not for further service and all were nervous, but they remained motionless. So did I, although I already knew that was "in", which did not rejoice me. I think that the attitude of this Sergeant with us, lowly recruits, was a way for him to let us completely understand that we were completely at his mercy.
Finally the ranks were completed and the names of the lucky ones were called. Wouter was in, and so was I. The others, including the badly shaved guy, were immediately expelled from the Legion. We, the "lucky ones" were led, marching in step, to the regimental barber for our induction cut! There were in fact four legionnaires holding clippers.
When my turn arrived, I knew more or less what I had to expect. But I had not expected the brutality of the legionnaire to whom my head had been assigned. I sat in the chair he pointed silently to me. He did not cape me: I was only wearing my jumpsuit. He shouted "Ha! Ha!" and took possession of my head. He started to shave the upper part, pushing energetically my chin on my chest and starting with the neck, going rapidly up, pulling then my head backwards to have a better hold on my nape and my front. He made several similar passes with his clippers, left and right of the first one. He then told me: "Head left". Obediently, I turned my head to the left and he used the access he now had to shave me completely on the right side of the head. Then came the shout: "Head right". I obeyed and he went on with the left side of my head. It took him a few minutes only before he shouted: "Head completed." Then came the next part: he started to shave with his clippers, my small beard and my mustache while saying: "I don’t understand how they can accept people with such a haircut."
He was done and told me: "Stand up lowly recruit and sweep the floor." I first passed my hand over my head and face (there was not a single mirror) and I could only feel stubbles. I then took the broom the barber had shown to me and obeyed passively his order. Until now, I don’t understand how I entered so rapidly into the passive and obedient mood which was expected from the recruit I was now. I believe that all the shouting and punishing we all got from our Sergeant were in fact exactly meant to bring all of us to that point. For most of my companions, it was a great achievement: they had been selected and were now shaven as a legionnaire should be. It was certainly not the case for me: I was defeated. I resigned myself to my new status, but I was certainly not happy about it.
The Sergeant took us then to a big hall where each of us received a new set of uniforms, BDUs for training and also one ceremony uniform. We also got a White Kepi which we had to try for the size and then carefully place back in its plastic bag: it was forbidden to wear it before the end of the first phase of instruction, the 4 weeks in the farm followed by a long march, 60 km with all our gear in two days. For the time being, we were only allowed to use as headgear a green beret. The beret badge simply said "4 RE" which is the name of the recruits regiment. We finally got two pairs of boots, very heavy and not at all soft. I now had two big bags full of army kit, and no longer my very special beret with the emblem of the para regiment. I had also been deprived of my stripes, since they were "only" reserve stripes, and of my medals, since I was now supposed to start a new life with a new name.
That was also the moment I really regretted my own reservist boots which were well adapted to my feet. Luckily I knew what had to be done to make my new boots more comfortable: use grease to make them soft. I decided that as soon as I would have one minute free, I would run to the "foyer" where we had bought beers until now. I wanted to buy there, with the rest of my 50 Euros, the necessary grease!