Posted by steven greaves photography on March 11, 2010 · 

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In the foothills of the French Pyrenees, a few miles outside of Mirepoix, boys from around the world become men. They have come from all corners of the globe- Brazil, Nepal, Russia, Romania, the United Kingdom and the United States- to fight for France. No matter from where, their allegiance is now to the Legion. Some have come for fortune; in their homelands, a paycheck is difficult to come by and families must be supported. Some come for glory and the desire for combat; most here await the opportunity to serve in Afghanistan. Others come to escape a sordid past with a new identity and the opportunity for French citizenship given at the end of a 5 year contract. Whatever their reasons, they will find their hopes fulfilled within the ranks of France’s Foreign Legion. 

Here at the 4th Regiment, 2nd Company, 3rd Section’s “farm,” the young (18) and old (37) have already passed rigorous physical and mental tests in Aubagne, the Legion’s administrative headquarters just outside Marseille. These are the 15% that have made it to basic training. Under the guidance of a cadre of stern and disciplined Corporals and Sergeants, these civilians will become soldiers and under the watchful eye of Lieutenant W. Charles, they will become Legionnaires. Successful completion of this stage of their training will earn them the right to wear the famed Kepi Blanc and upon them will be bestowed the title of “Legionnaire.” 

The training is not for the faint-hearted. The days are long and there is no downtime. Up well before sunrise, recruits begin their days with mops and buckets. Physical activities- 12km runs, push-ups, pull ups, hand-to-hand combat training- run throughout the day. Combat tactics and maneuvers must be mastered to the point where they become instinctive and when “contact” occurs, there is no thought… no hesitation.  Errors here result in body bags. French classes are required of all including the already-fluent Francophones hailing from once-French colonies. The difficulties in communication are obvious as many recruits look around at their peers for guidance when instructions are given. Inevitably, this leads to errors and a resulting rifle butt whack to the helmet. Many of the Asian recruits are at a severe disadvantage. Not only must they learn new grammar rules and vocabulary, many must learn a new alphabet. 

Steeped in proud tradition and ceremony, the Legion also requires all recruits to learn the history of the fabled unit. From epic victories to suicidal defeats, this is the core of the Legion. Canteen mugs are still raised at each meal to remember long-gone fallen comrades on Saharan sands. Bass and baritone breaks the rustic silence of the “farm” each day as the recruits belt out a litany of time-honored refrains sung by many before them. Their march step too is unlike any others. It is slow and determined with boots falling in rhythmic lockstep. It is commanding. 

Nehl is a 31 year old German. Having already done two tours in Afghanistan with the German army, he has come to the Legion for action and combat. Blond, lean and proud to be here, he is a born soldier. He seeks a return to Afghanistan but, this time, he wants to see “action.” With the Germans, he remained in a fortified compound and did little he says. He will seek to join the Legion’s distinguished 2REP (paratroopers), already in Sorubi, Afghanistan. Of his group of approximately 45 recruits, he has been chosen to lead the Kepi Blanc ceremony on behalf of his comrades. It is an obvious choice. He resonates pride. 

After this training and a 50km forced march, these boys will become Legionnaires. Many will struggle along the way. Some will fail. The Legion does not accept the weak of body or feeble of mind. Honor and fidelity to this brotherhood must be earned through a combination of blood, sweat, tears. All will shed them as their dedication and devotion is tested at the “farm.”

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