If the idea of spending 12 weeks in boot camp is what keeps people from joining the Marine Corps, they should be thankful that it’s only that long. It could always be worse — like in the French Foreign Legion’s four month basic training.
The first four weeks are an introduction to military life. They train at the 4th Foreign Infantry Regiment near Castelnaudary, a country town in Southern France. They also call it “The Farm.”
At the end of this, recruits receive the iconic white Kepi hat that is synonymous with the Foreign Legion in a special ceremony. But basic is far from over. From there, they move on to field training for three weeks, both in and out of the barracks. New Legionnaires spend a week in mountain training as well, high in the French Pyrenees.
Next, the newly-minted Legionnaires will finish a final 75 mile march that must be completed within three days. From there, they take basic educational courses and learn to drive military vehicles. On top of the rigorous training schedule, the non-French speakers will also have to learn basic French every day during training.
As far as the physical demand, the Legion’s rigorous training schedule can take its toll on a recruit. One Quora user, Kjell Saari, who joined the Legion in 1993, said he lost 22 pounds at the Farm, even though he had just been in Afghanistan fighting the Soviets — and he wasn’t eating much there.
“I was at the farm during the late fall/ early winter you realize that hell did freeze over and you died and ended up in hell. I like everyone else got sick as hell well guess what too damn bad, get up and become what you signed up for,” he wrote.
Mentally it can be just as rigorous. Due to the international nature of the group, few of the recruits can communicate at first — and forget about communicating with the instructors. But a “slap in the head makes you remember 100% of the time.” Former Legionnaires say it is important to not give up on yourself and to remember why you came to the Legion in the first place.
The Legion does not get hung up on the things people argue about in the U.S. military. Their tattoo policy actually welcomes tattoos. The only forbidden tattoos are Nazi and other racist art, as well as anything “stupid on your face.”
They don’t care if you’re gay or straight, trans, or married. They don’t care about your race, education, or religion. They don’t even care if you speak French. Once you’re in and past basic training, you can expect that food, clothing, and shelter will be provided, along with a salary on par with American soldiers and 45 days of leave per year.
From there, Legionnaires are shipped off to join the 8,000-plus others deployed throughout France, Africa, Afghanistan, and the Balkans to finish their five-year contract.
The FFL has its own culture — not French culture, Legion culture, as Saari puts it.
“Being in the legion was like being bipolar for 5 years,” Saari says. “Wild highs and bottom of the sea lows. Oh you better like to drink and you better be man enough to get your ass up the next morning and do what’s expected of you no matter how hung over or still drunk you are.”