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The physiotherapist p5 : Basic training by thadeusz


This story consists of 7 parts. It is suggested to read them in good order
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p5 : Legion basic training

A few days later we left Aubagne for Castelnaudary where we were immediately sent to an old farm far from everything. I had succeeded to soften a bit my new boots and was happy with this little additional comfort.
In the truck taking us to our first barrack, an old, cold and comfortless farm building, Wouter was very excited and told me:
"Armand," (my Legion first name) "I am really happy that I made it. We are now both future real legionnaires."
"Yes, but I did not want to join. They tricked me to do it."
And I told him my complete story.

When we arrived at the farm where we had to learn the basis of military life, we were sent to our room. It was no longer a nice room of 4 reservists with a big window, but a long room without a window where 14 recruits could find some kind of a bed. Altogether, our section consisted of 27 recruits. A Lieutenant commanded our section. The first thing he did was to take care of the non-French speaking guys. For each of them, he chose a French speaker as "binôme", i.e. as a twin brother. Some had more than one "twin brother" since there were more non-French speaking recruits than French speakers. I was selected as a "twin" for Wouter. This meant that I had to help him understand the orders and learn enough French to be able to answer the Lieutenant and the Sergeant questions. The rule was simple: if Wouter made a mistake, he was punished the Legion way and I would receive the same punishment.

I sat on the bunk assigned to me, next to Wouter. This special assignment added to the miserable look of our first "Legion home" made me start to cry silently. I was no longer a proud reservist with a para medal on my green beret and a nice Black Kepi as Master Corporal (reserve) but a lowly recruit who was here for what appeared to be a very long time.
Wouter asked me why I was crying and I told him the truth: I hated the idea of being now a legionnaire. He tried to console me in the only possible way:
"Many dream of joining the Legion and you got in easily. You will soon be Master Corporal again. In any case, there is no use crying over spilled milk. You cannot change it anymore, so try to live as happily as possible with it! At least during your first five years, after that you will either go back to civvy streets or decide that you really like it and stay. You will be with me, my brother in arms."

The Lieutenant commanding our section decided that since I had dark hair, I had to have my hair shorn to the wood every week, until the end of our Recruit Training which would last for 4 months. Wouter had blond hair and could restrict himself to have a head shave every other week. Wouter decided that as a token of our friendship he would join me in the shaving process.

Training started immediately and was physically and mentally difficult. The Lieutenant, the Sergeant and a Corporal who had joined us made it even more difficult, especially by punishing us for very tiny mistakes, or for a behavior which they declared "non Legion like". Several guys decided to leave: they could legally "go civil" during the first six months, but they were despised by all the others. I dreamed of doing the same, but I knew that because of my reserve activities, I could no longer legally do so. Wouter noticed rapidly that I was punished every time he was, so he tried to avoid doing anything wrong. He later told me that his fear to add to my distress made him become a better Legionnaire.

As far as I was concerned, the attitude of our chiefs confirmed my first opinion: they did a maximum to get rid of the "bad weeds" while making the rest of us obey each and every order as if we were machines. In order to avoid punishments, I played their ball game and obeyed passively. Finally it became a routine and before we left the "farm", it did no longer require any effort.

Eventually, it was time for the first big test: the White Kepi march: marching during 60 km, in two days, with all our kit on our back, plus our rifle and a half-tent to sleep with another recruit during one night in the fields. For many in our group, it was painful. Wouter did it without any problem: he was an athlete. I had learned about such marches as a reservist and I survived it, as I easily survived the 4 weeks of training in the farm. I was considered by the Lieutenant as his best recruit and he told me so when he gave me my White Kepi, transforming me from a recruit into a Legionnaire. He had selected me to recite the Legionnaire Oath and I was mighty proud of that. The Colonel was present during this small ceremony and he congratulated me adding:
"Grohman, you are now a promising Legionnaire. You are a much better man than when you came into my office. But I am still not sure whether you are completely tamed. So I let you continue your instruction with your friends."
I saluted, but I also realized that I had nearly forgotten that he had in one second transformed my one month training obligation into a regular 4 months basic training. In any case, I had been transformed: I was no longer Reservist André Girard but I was now, proudly, Legionnaire Armand Grohman.

We had a traditional drink offered by the Legion and immediately after that, the Lieutenant who was not a bad guy after all shouted:
"All new Legionnaires may have their phones back for one single call during no more than 15 minutes."

I called my parents and told them what happened. They tried to convince me to leave but I explained I could no longer do so, except by deserting, which would send me to jail. I also asked them to warn Sophie and to tell her that my new name was "Legionnaire Armand Grohman", but that I would be out of the communication world for three more months.

After three more months of intensive training in several places we were evaluated. Out of the 27 candidates who started this training only 19 remained: the others had either left legally, or deserted or been expelled for unsatisfactory results. Thanks to my training with the reservists, these four months had been easy for me and I naturally came out first of my group. Wouter had imitated me and came out second.

I no longer disliked being a Legionnaire, even when I received stupid orders or was punished without real reason: I felt now that there must be a hidden reason for this punishment. I started to realize then that the purpose of this Initial Training and all the punishments going with it was to mold us, the recruits coming from very different horizons, into legionnaires belonging to one single family: the Legion. I really believe that as far as I was concerned this molding process had been a success. I did not mind being in Legion uniforme 24/24 and 7/7: this was now natural for me.

Each of us had to appear in front of the Colonel assisted by the Lieutenant. We appeared in order of results, so I entered first. The purpose of this "report to the Colonel" was to determine to which regiment we would be assigned. As first of my group, I wanted to ask for a longer stay in 4 RE, helping officers training raw recruits: this would enable me to become Corporal at the end of my first year in the Legion. This would be a much more comfortable life. The Colonel did not let me say what I actually wanted. Immediately after my salute, he said:
"Well done Grohman. I would have liked to keep you here, but in your case it is already fixed. You will go to 2 REP and become a para. Good luck Legionnaire."
"At your orders, Colonel," was my only tamed answer. I saluted again, made a perfect about-face and left the room.
Wouter was about to enter immediately after me, but before entering he asked me "What did you get ?" I told him and he replied: "I am going to ask for the same."
Later I learned that Wouter could also have become assistant corporal, but that he said that he prefered staying with me since we were "twins brothers now". The Colonel accepted and he was also sent to 2 REP. We were now both obedient "Young Legionnaires" and after all I really started to like this well regulated life, despite the apparent brutality of the corporals.




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