Shrouded in mystery and prestige, the French Foreign Legion is just as feared by its enemies as it is envied by its allies. The legionnaires come from across the world, prepared to fight for a country that is not even their own. In the Legion, they learn to fight in extreme conditions, live together and work as a team. But who are these soldiers and what motivates them? While embedded with the 13th Half-Brigade of the Foreign Legion in Mali, our reporters found out.
“The Legion is our home” is the motto of the Foreign Legion, the legendary elite branch of the French Army. Africans, Americans, Asians, Europeans, anyone between 17 and 40 years old can sign up to fight for France.
The Legion was formed in 1831 and, to this day, inspires fascination. From the very start, it earned a reputation for being an army made up of wanted criminals. Today though, the Legion says entry is forbidden to anyone linked to violent crimes, sexual assault or drug-trafficking.
However, the Legion still gives a chance to those who want to leave their pasts behind, earn a living and serve in an army with one of the best reputations in the world.
Only one in five hopefuls makes it through the notoriously tough selection tests and once they’re in, the Legionnaires have to agree to a strict set of rules if they are to stay in. They’re punished if they fail to learn French and misunderstand orders.
Claire Paccalin and Fanny Allard followed the 13th Half-Brigade of the Foreign Legion at their French base and during a counter-terrorism operation in Mali.
They spent six days camping out in the desert near the border with Niger to find out how the Legion works and what motivates these men to fight for a country that is not their own.
Maxime, an 18-year-old Belgian, told them why he quit a carpentry apprenticeship to join the Legion. They spoke to Brandon, an American who drives his comrades crazy by playing country music at the barracks. Then there's Sergeant Giacomo, who started out camera-shy but later opened up about being a Legionnaire.