Special Operations: September 7, 2005

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One of strangest commando outfits in the world, does not consider itself one. Its the French Foreign Legion, that began as a formation of mercenary foreigners, but evolved into the elite unit, with many French troops, in the French armed forces. Founded in 1831, to use non-French troops to fight politically unpopular battles at home or abroad, the Legion did not really change to its current form until after World War II. In the beginning, French citizens were not accepted, as foreigners getting killed in French service was less politically explosive back home. Gradually, French citizens were allowed in, as long as they pretended they were not French (they could claim to be Belgians or French Canadians.) 

The current force is about 8,500 strong, organized into six infantry, one parachute, one armored and two combat engineer battalions (called regiments.) Currently, about a third of the troops are French. Recruiting standards put an emphasis on physical and psychological fitness. Minor criminal activity in the past can be waived, but the Legion does not recruit murderers and those with serious crimes in their past. First enlistment is five years, and you can become a French citizen via that service. The Legion attracts a lot of men who have served in their foreign armed forces (usually in the infantry or commandoes), and are looking for more excitement, and something different. The Legion can provide it, because this outfit is Frances main intervention and peacekeeping force. Until the 1960s, few Legionnaires ever set foot in France. But now most Legion units are based in France, at least when they are not on duty overseas (as many are now in the Ivory Coast).

Legionaries are often given commando type training, and the Legion is seen as a good source of recruits for smaller commando and intelligence gathering type units.

The training is tough and continuous, and the Legion builds a unit spirit that makes a big difference in combat. The Legion has a reputation for being tough, and they try to maintain that image, as it goes a long way to demoralize many potential enemies. The Legion also has a reputation for being loyal to each other. For example, troops who are crippled on duty, will have a job found for them if possible (so you might encounter a supply sergeant with an arm or eye missing.) The French consider the Legion to be very loyal and reliable, if only because the Legion has proved it so many times over nearly two centuries.

Since World War II, the Legion has attracted a lot of experienced recruits from wars that have ended. When the Cold War ended, the Legion got a lot of the better commando and paratrooper veterans from the former Soviet Union (which disbanded many units in the 1990s). Currently, there are a lot of Yugoslavs in the Legion, veterans of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The Legion is a mixture of traditions and mayhem, that will continue to attract adventurers from all over the world.

 


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