Personally, I was happy being able to spend a couple of days in Bangui. It meant that we can have a shower each night, eat something correct for breakfast and launch and sleep at the same place for several days.
Before leaving for an easy trip from Sibut, the platoon chief promised us a whole day of rest if we work well back at the FOB. It was excellent news for everyone, especially for us (1st class legionnaires) because we didn’t stop for a second since we arrived to Central Africa.
I parked the car just in front of our place and put my stuff in the tent I spent my first days in Africa. 10 minutes later the platoon sergeant was shouting my name and I had no idea what I did wrong this time. Fortunately, he just told me that I can have a place in the command tent because there’s nobody and it’s better to keep the team together. Cool.
As each time during my whole career in the FFL, before taking a shower or doing anything else after a mission, we all cleaned our rifle and the .50cal.
Legionnaires stay legionnaires
I couldn’t do as many operations in the Legion as I wanted to, but when I went somewhere on overseas mission, I saw legionnaires (or myself) being punished for their banane. The origin of these faults is mostly pure stupidity but naturally one can be punished for a professional mistake as well. In Central Africa it wasn’t different.
Everyone in the platoon worked well and we finished to fix the vehicles’ small problems a day earlier. I told the other guys that if someone is looking for me, I’ll be in the internet room. At the beginning of the operation we got a phone card I didn’t use yet, so I thought I’ll call back home since I didn’t have anything left to do for the day.
A half an hour later, I saw one of my mates coming in a never seen hurry to the internet room telling me that we’re all in trouble and we should go quickly back to the tents.
He didn’t tell me more about what was happening because he didn’t know anything either. But before I pass to the story, you should take a small detail into account.
Perhaps it will be surprising to members of other military forces who have already participated in any kind of deployment in a hostile zone, but the French Army allows its members to drink alcohol during missions. Naturally, it’s only possible once they finished the task and are “free”. In a normal case there’s a daily limit of two bottles of beer, but it’s nearly impossible to control.
The reason why they let soldiers drink is because they suppose that everyone is a responsible adult and will respect the rules. The fun fact is that during all of my deployments we had couple of guys who did something incredibly stupid because of being drunk. That’s what happened with two legionnaires from my platoon.
In Bangui we had at least 10 bars (called popote in French) where one could buy his 2 bottles of beer a day. So the guys made the “tour de camp”, drank their two bottles in each bar and finished in a state that even an Irish sailor would have become jealous of. So, our heroes thought that there’s nothing more interesting than to take a look at the helicopters at the airport. Then jump on it, take some pohots and have fun.
The only problem was that a French officer passed by and heard someone speaking French with a strange accent, so it wasn’t really hard to guess out from which unit the guys were coming from.
Our officer in charge was furious. Apparently, the helicopters standing by on the tarmac made part of the medical evacuation team (MEDEVAC) and could have been solicited by other forces in case of emergency. So the fact that the guys from the platoon touched and climbed on the helicopters compromised the whole operation.
If a pilot thinks that there’s a problem with the machine, it’s not going to fly. I also learned that in a case like that, the verification process takes almost a whole day…
I also got my part of punishment, because “I didn’t report to anyone” that I left the tent and I was unavailable during a deployment… So that’s how we (legionnaires) cleaned the .50cal and all the rifles in the platoon again with a headlamp until 2AM. Once we finished, the two knights of the apocalypse had to stay on guard in full gear during the rest of the night next to our vehicles.
Before breakfast, we were all summoned by the platoon chief in our Képi blanc to receive a verbal warning. He reminded us one by one that we’re still on deployment and shouldn’t behave as children.
Way of command
This kind of treatment isn’t uncommon in the FFL. I always felt like a kid when a guy in a higher rank was talking to me and I never found out if our chiefs use this manner of speech because
- We’re foreigners and don’t speak French very well
- They think we’re stupid af
- It’s a normal way to speak in the army
Stupidity has no limits
Bad luck for others, but a chance for us that another dream team was present in camp M’poko in the same time as our platoon. They made everyone forget the incident with the helicopter the next night…