Once the airplane landed, the battlegroup we made part received a new mission. The two platoons from our company, elements from cavalry and infantry units were heading toward the eastern part of the country in order to reach Bria.
We needed three days to arrive to the city, because the roads weren’t made for heavy military vehicles. Our VABs and trucks stuck in the mud all the time and we lost hours to pull them out. The journey was rather boring, nothing interesting happened, if it wasn’t a small incident in my platoon.
When one of the vehicles of the team on the head of the battlegroup stuck again in the mud, the captain ordered our platoon chief to protect the back of the convoy. It was a quite common maneuver and the lieutenant sent a group 100 meters back to ensure the protection of the unit. The only problem was that a corporal who usually operated the .50cal and answered the radio got malaria. He was evacuated to Bangui a few days earlier and a Legionnaire replaced him in the VAB.
A small incident
He received the instructions and just said, “Copy that”. I was watching their vehicle in the driving mirror but it didn’t move. A minute later, the VAB was still on the same place and before I could report to the lieutenant that there’s probably a problem, I saw the trap opening.
The legionnaire was rushing out of the vehicle, the sergeant shouting on him. Everything happened in light speed and a moment later, my comrade was doing push-ups next to the armoured car. In the middle of an operation. In a real situation. I burst out laughing. It was unbelievable and absurd, but still so “Legion style” that I couldn’t keep my laugh back. A second later the sergeant took the radio and ask to reconfirm the order, because the guy didn’t understand a single word, just said “copy that”.
Years later as a sergeant, I always told this story to new legionnaires while I was teaching them for radio procedure. It’s better to confirm the order three times, than saying “copy” when you didn’t understand anything. In the worst case, you just say that the radio network doesn’t function well or the liaison is bad. But you can’t say “copy” if you can’t forward the exact instructions to the team leader.
A whole day on the road again and we arrived to our final destination after sundown. The VBL from the infantry unit guided us to the place I thought for a temporary base. It wasn’t. Vehicles stationed on a clearing right next to the road. No buildings, no fortification, they were just there waiting for us.
I also detected a small tension in the atmosphere. The guys from the infantry unit seemed to be pretty frustrated.
The platoon chief came back with the orders and told us that in the current situation we can’t enter the city at night. According to the information he got from the chief of the infantry platoon, the population didn’t appreciate the presence of French forces. Each time when they tried to reach the temporary base of the Central African Army in Bria, they found themselves under heavy enemy fire. They couldn’t continue without support, so they came back to the outskirt of the city.
As the situation was worse than in Sibut a few weeks earlier, we had to sleep in our gear again.
The next morning a Sagaie took the lead of the convoy.