This is the third and last part of the interview I made with Raf, a sergeant of the French Foreign Legion I met during a training in Castelnaudary. I hope you enjoyed our discussion about his daily life and career.
Aron : How often were you in contact during this mandate? That’s what people ask most often.
Raf : Maybe 5 or 6 times in total, with about 15 terrorists neutralized (the official term used by the French army when it comes to giving an assessment – ed. note). The rest was more of a search for caches or a sweep, but we rarely made an assessment in this way. It was another nice 5-month mission, but in the end we were more involved in escorts or small sorties. But these are missions anyway, because you never know what can happen.
A : I totally agree with you. What was the most memorable thing about Mali?
R : The population. The people live in the desert, in the middle of nothing. They don’t have much, but they are happy anyway. It is extraordinary. We in Europe have everything compared to them, but we are the ones who are always complaining.
The second thing was the difficulty of the situation. It is extremely complex, because there are many instructions to respect and sometimes it is very difficult. Each time, we had to identify the target well, so that we could be 100% sure that it was a terrorist. This was especially true for motorcycles or pickups. This operation is not a classic war, but rather an asymmetric conflict.
A : Thank you for telling us all this. I have a few more questions that are a little more ordinary, but that might still be of interest to people. Why did you choose a career as a non-commissioned officer?
R : Becoming an NCO was something that came naturally to me, I would say. As an AMF (Aide Moniteur Foret – Rain forest monitor), I was used to commanding and after my time there it was a pretty obvious path in my case.
A : What was your worst day that you spent in the Legion?
R : It was during stage AMF. We had been in the course for several weeks and I decided to hide behind a tree so I could get some sleep. But at some point the instructors and my fellow students started looking for me. It was a general alarm, because nobody knew where I was. But of course, after a while they found me asleep and it was a collective ramassage for hours. I was the one carrying the rope and weights, but everyone was sucking, as usual. Except that this time it was because of me. I felt guilty and very bad.
A : Your best day?
R : The AMF brevet presentation on a Thursday afternoon in the 3REI parade ground by the corps commander. The whole regiment was there at attention, just to witness our commissioning. I was very happy, because this course was the most difficult of my life. The chef de corps ended the ceremony by saying that in Guyana there are only two types of people. The AMF and the others. I was very proud of myself and I felt free. During the course, you always had to ask permission to do anything. Even to take a piss, so I was happy. I could finally go to sleep peacefully.
A : What is the biggest drawback for you at the Legion?
R : The administrative part. It’s always too long and too slow. You always have to allow several weeks before a leave if you want to go abroad and either you get permission or you don’t. But it’s too procedural, whereas in the regular army you just have to get permission. But it’s too procedural, whereas in the regular army you just have to make a simple paper and you get it automatically. You can go to Japan, the United States, or wherever you want in your spare time.
The second thing is that in the French Foreign Legion we are asked to go further and further. It’s very tense sometimes. Especially when you see the others that they are quiet, at home it is always more flexible. I think that’s the disadvantage.
A : The advantages?
R : It’s that you can have a different life, even when you are older. You live through very difficult times, you spend several days in the rain during a drill, but at the end you’re always glad you did it. All of this strengthens you mentally and eventually, when you walk down the street and there is a downpour, people start running to hide from the rain. But you stay calm, knowing that you’ve been through worse than this. That makes you stronger and happier.
A : The last question. If you had to do it again, would you do it again?
R : Yes, without hesitation. I think everyone would say that, even those who deserted or didn’t finish their first contract. You get to experience unforgettable moments that you couldn’t in civilian life. It’s an extraordinary experience.
This is the end of this interview. If you have any other that you thing that you’d liked to know about Raf’s career, don’t hesitate to ask in a comment below. If there are enough questions, we can do another interview with him next year.
If you’d like to read the previous interview, here are the links to those articles:
Thanks again for reading Legionstories!