Anyway, an interesting look at the FFL and the men it draws:
The mysterious lure of the French Foreign Legion keeps drawing AmericansLT Franks, I hope it was worth it to you. I don't know how old you were when you made your decision, perhaps it was being young and stupid (trust me, been there, done that). The fact you went into a combat unit shows you were not dodging bullets.
The story is bizarre enough to serve as the plot of an action movie: 2nd Lt. Lawrence J. Franks Jr. quit his job in the U.S. Army, fled the country and secretly enlisted in the elite French Foreign Legion under an assumed name, authorities said. He deployed numerous times, including during a conflict in Mali, and then turned himself in to U.S. officials this year, seemingly at peace with what he had done.
“I needed to be wet and cold and hungry,” Franks said, according to the New York Times. “I needed the grueling life I could only find in a place like the Legion.”
Franks was court-martialed and convicted, and was sentenced Monday to four years imprisonment at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for conduct unbecoming an officer and desertion with intention to shirk duty. By fleeing his unit March 30, 2009, at Fort Drum, N.Y., Franks avoided deployment and prompted a manhunt because of concerns that he might have been lost or injured in the cold woods of upstate New York, Army officials said.
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Franks’ case underscores something else, however: The mysterious, fabled reputation of the Legion. The service currently includes more than 7,000 members, and was established in 1831 as part of the French army, but with a key difference: Its enlisted force is heavily comprised of men from other countries — including the United States.
The Legion has a reputation — perhaps embellished at times — for attracting troubled men looking for adventure and the opportunity to start over in life. Franks’ case would appear to reinforce that. A 2008 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., he said he was struggling with suicidal ideations when he fled his post and flew to Europe, he said in court, according to the Times.
The lieutenant’s father, Lawrence Franks Sr., said in a letter to the editor published in April 2009 in an Oregon newspaper that New York State Police determined the soldier had flown to Zurich, Switzerland, and passed through Swiss customs. Then he disappeared — right up until this year, after five years in the Legion.
“Lawrence gave us no clue he was contemplating a life-changing decision when we spoke per phone on March 29,” the father recalled in the letter to the editor. “His commander informs me he was an exemplary young officer with a bright future. I am a sad, confused dad. My wife would like to say, ‘We are surely not alone wondering why our beloved Lawrence left all behind, including us, whom he deeply loves.'”
Franks is far from the only U.S. service member to consider joining the Legion. The force is romanticized by some rank-and-file troops, who appreciate its rough and tumble conditions and reputation for fighting in some of the world’s fiercest wars. The Legion’s English-language website notes that 35,000 Legionnaires have been killed in combat: “Foreigners who have become sons of France not by blood received but by blood shed,” the Legion adds. Many of them did so anonymously.
U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division descend from C-130H Hercules Aircraft during a joint airdrop with French Foreign Legion paratroopers from the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment (2REP) near Solenzara Air Base, Corsica, France, on May 29 in the training exercise Allied Forge 2014. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Erica J. Knight/ U.S. Air Force)
Social media and military web forums are filled with questions about the service. On Reddit, for example, a 2010 thread in which an American claimed to have served in the Legion and left as an enlisted corporal drew hundreds of comments and questions from readers.
“The training was very tough,” said the purported Legionnaire. He added that basic training in the southern French post of Castelnaudary “is designed to break you, mentally, as an individual and reform you as a team.”
“It does exactly that and psychologically is probably the toughest thing I have ever experienced,” the Reddit poster wrote. “Physically, it is extremely demanding. However, if you’re in good shape and willing to push yourself (and be pushed) past what you think is your breaking point, you’ll do fine...”
That's what most military in-processing training does, it breaks the man and rebuilds him as a team. Ask anyone who's gone though basic training, or other leadership schools like Ranger or Special Forces.
...In reality, the Legion continues to deploy and work with the U.S. military. In a recent example, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, of Camp Pendleton, Calif., recently trained alongside Legionnaires in Djibouti. Six members of the Legion also traveled to Camp Lejeune, N.C., in October to take part in the military exercise Bold Alligator, U.S. military officials said. They observed Marine Corps planning so the two forces can integrate better in the future.
The Legion’s operations in Mali in 2013 also have been studied by the U.S. Army. An analysis performed for the service by the Rand Corp. this year found that that Legion units take more risks than American commanders are comfortable with, but are nevertheless a model for the kind of small forces Army Chief of Staff Raymond T. Odierno envisions deploying in the future.