Legio Patria Nostra....for better or worse Originally published 06/23/2011
Moving to France to finally be together was the culmination of 8 months of living on separate continents, the first three of which we could not speak at all. Before he left, we had 6 months of educating ourselves, talking about our plan, preparing for being apart, and trying not to think about the day that was coming so quickly. Despite all of the conversations and planning, that drive home from the airport (and what I found out later that his afternoon waiting at the airport bar) was the most difficult drive I’ve ever made. There aren’t a lot of words to describe that feeling; it is not really something that someone can prepare you for. At the risk of sounding cliché, you have to experience it to know what it is like. For those couples/families who plan and prepare ensemble, you are fully aware going into it that once he appears at the front gate of the Legion, in our case in Paris, you understand that at least the first 12-14 weeks there will not be any phone, email, or mail contact. The idea is to literally & figuratively take his identity, as it becomes Legio Patria Nostra (the Legion is our Fatherland). He is issued a new name, they take his passport and any identifying paperwork he has with him, and they cut him off from his “former life”. While other militaries of the world have boot camp type experiences, the differences really start to stand out here. Being the sister of a Marine, c’est incroyable to be told that the Legion is his new family & that until at least 5 years service or until he reaches Sergeant, any family needs or priorities are not recognized by his new employer. It will be a few more blogs until I get to what all of that looks like, but I already began feeling this with his first three months of instruction. For July, August, and three weeks of September, I didn’t get a single word from him. Finally, Wednesday, 16 September, a week before his birthday, I finally got an email, saying that all was well and he would try to call within a week. And then finally, a phone call. I will never forget that morning, 11:30 that Wednesday morning. I was standing in line at a Panera Bread getting my Diet Coke and a 11 digit phone number appeared on my screen.
And this was just the beginning of my understanding about the Legion making itself the number one priority in his life. We probably scheduled 4 different vacations based on different dates they gave him (and then cancelled) for us to see each other. Two days after I arrived in Calvi, even though he was assigned for kitchen duty the first 4 months he was in Calvi, he was sent on a 3 week stage in the mountains of southern Corsica. He was never allowed off base during the week, and every Quartier Libre he was assigned to be on guard. We missed our birthdays for the second year in a row. Christmas Eve and Christmas morning we spent apart because of Christmas traditions on base that are required by all Legionnaires to attend. The Legion is first, and anything else follows after that. The best thing for us was having our love and trust before the Legion, and we already had the promise of each other. It works for us because we both recognize that, for now, the Legion trumps all else. Understandably, we struggle when the Legion tells our soldiers what is most important - to their career, to their wellbeing, to their families. And on the other side of that coin, I recognize that while we make certain sacrifices for the Legion life, just the fact that I live here shows me how important I am to him. And that makes it all worth it.
And now, one week away from him completing Stage Corporal (8 weeks of being apart), I've started this journey to recap all that we've learned about ourselves & about the kind of life we want for ourselves & our family. I'm one week away from the end of the school year for my French class, but the future holds so much! The summer will be amazing - it already has been! - but September is coming, with the hopes of taking my DILF exam (French competency exam) and also possibly teaching English to children of Legion families. That's been the most important thing for me. While we are here pursuing his dreams & passions, I am slowly finding activities that keep me in touch with my passions.....children, teaching, supporting families, and gaining new experiences. Its still so hard when he goes away on training, but I think we're both encouraged by my exploration of opportunities to use my abilities, education, & heart to help others. And hopefully this place is one more area where I can outpour my passion & care for others.