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The physiotherapist p6 : In the regiment by thadeusz
This story consists of 7 parts. It is suggested to read them in good order.
p6 : life as "Young legionnaire"
All the "New Legionnaires" going to 2 REP were told to board a bus which left for Marseille. There we took place on a boat going to Calvi. We were of course supervised by a seasoned Corporal.
As soon as we reached Calvi, we had to take a bus which took us to Camp Raffalli, our new barracks. There we were again sent to a building labeled "recruits barrack". It was precisely the building in which I made my first steps in the Legion, as reservist with my friend Ali Khider.
This building one had still large rooms but not more than 8 beds per room and each of them was decent. Moreover, each of us had a cupboard and there was a large window. We had now access to the mail and to the phone. We also had access to something much more important: the "Foyer du Légionnaire", a place where we could do some shopping without going outside the barracks and also a place where we could have a cheap drink, paying directly with the only allowed bank account, the one created for us by the Legion.
The first thing I bought was a set of clippers, Osters clippers: I did not want to keep going to the regimental barber, which was expensive. I first told Wouter how to shave my head. I had never done it myself, but I had carefully observed the barber each time I went for my weekly compulsory induction cut. I had thus seen how the barber was doing with more seasoned Legionnaires. I showed on my head, with unplugged clippers, how Wouter should first shave a straight horizontal line above my ears and all around my head. He should then use the clippers with no guard to clean everything below that line. Of course in order to do so, he could tell me and force me to turn my head whichever way he wanted. I added:
"After that, you put a #1 guard and you shave everything that’s above that line, it will leave slightly more than 2mm hair and the maximum allowed is 3mm on our crown."
"You really want the top also buzzed off?" was Wouter’s reaction.
"It is not that I want it, but as ‘Young Legionnaires’ that’s how we must look."
"And really nothing left on the sides and on the nape?"
"Again, that’s not only how we must look but it is also much easier to do when you are just learning to shave your friend’s head."
Courageously, Wouter started after I had promised him that I would not be angry if he did something wrong: I would simply ask him to give me another induction cut, known here as "Boule à Zéro" if something went wrong. He did a more than acceptable job and asked me to do the same for him.
These were my first actions as Legionnaire in the paratrooper regiment of the Legion, but I was not yet a real paratrooper. We first had to train for about a week in order to know the place and also to know our chiefs. Ahmed Kacem, the Legion name of Ali Khider, my ex friend, was one of them. He probably had bad memories of his own training because he kept being rude with each of us, "Young legionnaires", punishing without real reason and giving lots of chores.
After a week, the serious business started. It is then that I finally started what my actual aim was: paratrooper training. There again I was good, but Wouter was slightly better. After two grueling weeks, we got our para wings and the "fourragère" of the regiment, during a ceremony which marked our entry as full members of the paratrooper regiment. Wouter, who was the best among us, received on top of it his first stripe: he became Legionnaire First Class. After the ceremony, the Colonel told me while we were drinking the usual glass:
"As Reservist Girard, you were good, but as Legionnaire Grohman you are excellent. You deserved to become Legionnaire First Class today, but your friend Wouter needed to be pushed to his maximum. That’s why we decided to treat him as the best new para: he did not have the training you had as a reservist. You will get better in a few months."
Once again I saluted and said: "At your orders, Colonel."
We ended our basic training by six weeks of regimental training in the plains of Corsica. I cannot say that I disliked that. Finally, we were assigned to our permanent rooms. Wouter and I were placed in a nice and comfortable room, with 2 others. But Corporal Ahmed Kacem, my former friend Ali Khider from the Reserve Military Training, with his new name and … two stripes, was always around. He was now an enlisted legionnaire, very proud of his stripes. He looked at me and told me:
"Don’t believe that I will be kind with you because we were friends in the past. On the contrary, I will require more of you, a better attitude and if you don’t do what I wanted, I will punish you."
This was normal by Legion standard, so I accepted what amounted to a plain treason. I saluted and said nothing. Wouter, next to me, looked bewildered.
After that day, we kept training in the regiment or in the high mountains near it. We also had many chores to do: this seemed normal to me since we were the newest members of the regiment and I did not mind learning to peel rapidly tons of potatoes for the meals. Wouter did not like it, but he obeyed: he was also tamed. We also had some free time in the evening or during the weekend. When we really had nothing to do, and no Corporal succeeded in inventing some special chore for us, we were allowed to go out of the barracks to the little town near the regiment. We had of course to be in uniform and we were inspected before we left. Some were blocked at the gate by a big Master Sergeant because their clothes or their attitude was not sufficiently "Legion like". Ahmed-Ali tried several times to block me, but he was not a Master Corporal, only a Corporal. I thus always succeeded to go out and spend a few hours in the local bars. In fact, I must correct this, not all bars did accept to serve legionnaires in uniform and especially "Young Legionnaires" as we were called. So during these very short leaves we could only go to three bars, all of them more expensive than the Regiment bar. But also provided with charming girls !
Finally, after 8 months as active duty legionnaire, I got a three weeks leave. This gave us the possibility to go to mainland France, and to visit my parents. I invited Wouter to come with me, but he chose to go to Paris on his own: he would have liked to go to Barcelona, but as "Young Legionnaire", still with a Legion identity only, we were not allowed to leave France. That’s why Wouter decided to go to Paris. Of course we had to be in civvies during that period of time. Since my clothes had been more or less confiscated when I joined, I bought in the foyer a pair of jeans and a few t-shirts. I kept my "outing" shoes.
As soon as I was home, before they even greeted me, my parents wanted me to tell them my complete story. When I told them that, after all, I now liked being a Legionnaire, my father started to scold me as he had never done before. His main argument was that I had now abandoned my studies which had cost him a great amount of money. My mother was rather anxious, saying that I now might get killed for stupid reasons. In any cases, my parents wanted me to resign from the Legion. When I told them that my only way to get out of the regiment before the end of my contract was a very bad one: desertion. This would send me immediately to prison and make me at least an ex-con. This would place me in a very bad situation for the rest of my life, since I was French, and thus reachable for the French courts. I nevertheless promised to enquire into my possibilities to finish my studies after the end of my contract.