People usually think that being in the French Foreign Legion means many suffering moments and inhuman trainings. The half of my service I passed on courses all around in France. At the beginning as a trainee and later as an instructor. Are all of these trainings really that hard? No, not all of them.
However, I went through some very uncomfortable moments, mostly in Castelnaudary or in the mountains. But in this article I’ll write about the stage AMF in French Guyana. From my point of view, that is the hardest training in the French Foreign Legion one can participate. So, what is stage AMF?
Aide Moniteur Forest (AMF) – The hardest training in the French Foreign Legion?
Probably the most accurate translation would be “Jungle instructor assistant” or “Jungle instructor’s helper”. This training has the reputation of being the most difficult offered to Legionnaires in the French Army.
The aim of this 8 weeks long training is to turn Legionnaires having real experience in the jungle into specialists who will be able to train other soldiers to survive in the equatorial forest. Before obtaining this prestigious certificate, the volunteers have to master all the existing aspect of survivor technics and combat skills in the jungle. They only have to pass the famous stage AMF.
An entry test
The training, as all physically demanding courses, starts with an entry test. The Legionnaires have to show to the instructors that they have their place and deserve to follow this training. The program before going to the forest is running in boots each morning (8 to 10km), rope climbing, push-ups and obstacle course. Swimming at midnight in the regiment’s pool with hands tied makes also part of the selection. The instructors has to test the best possible each candidate.
All this happens in the French Foreign Legion style. The trainees have to run while moving, because walking is strictly forbidden during the whole day. The instructor’s goal is to destabilize each volunteer as much as they can. The selection starts from the very first day. Nothing escapes their eyes. Each small sign of weakness are rewarded with phrases like:
“Hey coco, the Legion pays you to scare the enemies, not to make them pity you.”
Most of the time some people leave the training until the end of the first week. The training intensity is very high and not everyone can support that, even if the real part of the course starts from the second week.
Before the trainees get in the truck, they lose (again) their identity and become numbers for the duration of the whole course.
A reference center in perpetual adaptation
Located in the heart of the equatorial forest, having unique training infrastructures in France and a highly qualified instructor team. The CEFE plays an important role in the operational preparation of 3°REI in equatorial environment. However, the most famous image is when a trainee is struggling in the mud under a half-drowned stretcher, the CEFE works for the benefit of many other units. French or soldiers from foreign Armies, the CEFE offers an extremely varied range of training.
Legionnaires participating in the stage AMF have already passed a few days in the CEFE. The first initiation is mandatory for everyone who goes on mission in French Guyana. It takes 3 days and the newly affected soldiers to 3rd REI have to learn the basic gestures to survive in the jungle. The vocation of the second training is to strengthen the already acquired experience during “Operation Harpie”.
Legionnaires are becoming instructor assisants
The stage AMF is elaborated in a way that allows the trainees to acquire the necessary knowledge and experience to become an instructor assistant. To reach this goal, the Legionnaires train day and night on different obstacle course, but not only the crossing technics. At the end of their training, they have to be able to teach the correct way to cross the obstacle course and it’s not always evident.
Young Legionnaires can also participate
Especially not for a young Legionnaire, but as they are only numbers, the instructors don’t take rank into account. Everyone has to undertake responsibility during specific missions. The most common is when a hunter or a soldier get lost in the forest. The trainees have to organize a rescue team and lead the mission. The leader (even if it’s a 1st class Legionnaire) commands and guides the squad, so he has to master the use different orientation techniques. Once they found the “victim” (mostly another trainee), the group has to bring him back to the base camp in an improvised stretcher.
The instructors force the team to move as quickly as they can. If it’s not enough, they make increase the tempo with a bit tear gas. The way back to the camp is not a lovely walk, but a real obstacle course passing in the mug and between mangroves.
The trainees are permanently wet and don’t stop doing push-ups and jumping jacks. They have to show their best performance even in the worst conditions. The theoretical explosive course at night in candle light, with a soft music in the background obligate them to overcome the fatigue.
They pass each night somewhere in the forest and sleep in a hammock. Sleep… when they can, because it happens sometimes that the instructors wake them gently up with an exercise grenade and a whistle.
As the training is approaching to its end, the Legionnaires pass approximately a week in the jungle and they have to survive only with their basic equipment. The instructors carefully search all of their belongings before bringing them with blinded eyes to the area of the exercise. They have to build a shelter, organize the daily life and gather food, because they leave the CEFE with empty hands. This part ends with a 9km long running back to the center. If the trainees didn’t manage to gather enough food, they have to face this exercise with empty stomach.
At the end of the training, the participants become officially AMF if they validated all of the obstacles and passed the tests. These Legionnaires can be deployed as a specialist in a combat unit, in the SAED (Section d’Aide à l’Engagement Débarqué – Landing Support Platoon) or as an instructor assistant in the CEFE.
Only for a mission
When I was in French Guyana, my company made part of the 9th Marine Infantry Regiment. We mostly operated in the west side of the territory. I’ve never been in 3rd REI, but if I could restart my career, I’d ask for a long over-see mission. I learned the most useful things in “Operation Harpie” and I regret that I couldn’t pass a training at the CEFE.
I wrote this article based on an interview I made with a friend who successfully finished the AMF training.