“Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”
From the website of the Foreign Legion
French Foreign Legionnaires advancing against the enemy in Afghanistan.
If you join the Legion, make it through the arduous initial training, and earn the right to wear the white kepi or the kepi blanc, you are forbidden from wearing civilian clothes off base until you have served for five years. Also important to know: you will be easily recognized in public as a Legionnaire. Why? Because Foreign Legionnaires are the only men in the French army allowed to wear the white kepi.
Foreign Legionnaire under fire in Afghanistan
As of January 2014, the Foreign Legion had a total strength of 7,699 men. Of this total, 413 are officers and 1,741 are NCOs. The remainder, 5545 are legionnaires divided into 11 regiments. While the Legion itself is an elite unit, the paratroopers in the Legion are the elite of the elite.
90% of the officers are from the regular French Army but 10% rose from the ranks. I think this is relatively new since I recall that some years ago I read about the Legion and at that time all the officers were seconded from the French Army and the highest rank a legionnaire could aspire to was sergeant-major.
Legionnaire in Mali where the the Legion decimated Islamic extremists who had seized part of the country.
(photo courtesy of guns.com)
As you might imagine, there are men from as many as 136 to 140 countries serving in the French Foreign Legion including American citizens. French citizens can serve in the Legion but I have the impression they need a really good reason since there are many elite units in the French Army they are eligible to join.
You can join the Legion under a “declared name” or your legal name. After three years of satisfactory service, you can apply for French citizenship although this is not guaranteed for those serving under a nom de guerre. Theoretically this is to prevent those who are in trouble with the authorities in their country from becoming French but I suspect that if they are a few men short they look the other way. Their website says that you cannot join if you are wanted by Interpol.
Legionnaires wearing their traditional white kepi
photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons
La Légion étrangère marches at 88 steps a minute in formal parade. The standard for French soldiers is 132 steps a minute. Hence, the Legion always beings up the end of any French military parade in which they participate.
If you are an American and serve in the army of a foreign power or swear an oath of allegiance to a foreign power your US citizenship can be forfeit under various circumstances according to the information in the US passport. (Your passport actually belongs to the US Government–something I just read when I checked the previous sentence). A paragraph in the front of your passport is English and French because for centuries French was the language of diplomacy.
Since it is the Foreign Legion and most of the men are not French, Legionnaires take an oath to the Foreign Legion itself and not to France according to: Mercenaries: A Guide to Private Armies and Private Military Companies by Alan Axelrod.
Légionnaires in modern dress uniform. Note the green and red epaulettes, the distinctive white kepi and the blue sash. They carry France’s standard assault rifle, the FAMAS. The Legionnaires are returning from a Bastille day military parade in 2005.
Photo by David Monniaux courtesy of Wikipedia
Monument to the Legionnaires in Aubagne. It originally stood at the Legion’s headquarters in Siddi Bel Abbes and was moved when Algeria gained independence. Countries where the Legion has served are marked in gold. The monument is flanked by four legionnaires and the centre is guarded by two lion heads. It is inscribed La Legion A Ses Morts –The Legion to its dead.
(caption and photo by davric – collection personnelle courtesy of Wikipedia)