The Choice to Join the Legion 9/26/11
The choice for a man to join the Legion can either be very simple or very complex. For the men who are 18-19 years old, want to see the world, have the military mindset and career goals that would be augmented by this unique and well-respected experience, it can be a simple decision to go. 5 year contract, by the time you are 23 years old, you could be a seargent in the FFL and have up to 2-3 tours in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, French Guyane, Ivory Coast.....
However, making the decision when you have a significant other and/or kids can be quite complicated. I only claim to be an expert on my own experience, so please do not take this as the only opinion or view. Also, my experience is limited to the 2éme REP, the Parachutist Regiment.
Most men who join the Legion and have family already typically plan to be apart from their family for 5 years. It is just that cut and dry for them. Most men send the majority of their paycheck home for the family. After 5 years service, many men bring their wife and child/ren here; there is military housing, the man can have a more normal 7-5:30 daily schedule, and there are resources for family to learn French, to help the family gain French nationality, and get their children into school. After they are given permission to become married (yes, you do have to ask permission to have it recognized by the French Military for medical insurance, etc.), the family can have full military benefit.
All of this to say, I arrived around the 8 month mark of my fiancée being in the Legion. He had been stationed in the 2éme REP for 4 months before I arrived, so it was still 18 hour days, ramassing non stop...the 2éme REP believe your ability to serve and be treated as a "nothing" is an indication of your ability and whether you have what it takes to stay in the 2éme REP. Thus, I arrived on a Friday and Monday morning commenced a 3 week stage where I was only able to talk with him every 5-6 days. Being in France, speaking no French, and being completely on my own......that is something that each Legionnaire, each couple needs to decide if the woman can do it. It takes a specific type of personality to initiate learning a new language, a new culture, finding a place to live, etc. Legionnaires do not have the time or ability to find housing, etc. in the first year of service; their lives are completely controlled by the Legion - aside from the fact it is technically INTERDIT for a soldier to have an apartment and car in town. If you do not handle the situation correctly, you can be sent en taulle (Legion jail) for a month or two if they find out.....so just beware :)
In the first 2 years, I tell women to assume they will not see their men more than 4-5 months out of the year. Last year, Scott was home most weekends (but he pulled guard at least 1-2 month on the weekends, and 1-2 weeks out the month). However, his advancement is determined in part by the amount of training he has had. In 2010, we were apart for 5 months of stage, 2 months before I arrived, and on average we saw each other 3 nights a week plus 2-3 weekends a month for the rest of the time (aside from our 1 month permission in June). In 2011, he has been on Stage for 6 months 1 week then we had our month of permission. Now that he is a corporal, as long as he does not have service, he is home most nights of the week and (knock on wood) almost every weekend. He is a combat medic, corporal, tireur d'elite (2 sniper trainings completed), and has completed preselection for the GCP (Groupe Commando de Parachutistes - there is an age max on when you must have all of your trainings completed for this). All this to say, we have gone very long periods of time without seeing each other. In the States I was a group home therapist and University professor, so I have taken those skills and experience to learn French (there are two schools for military families wanting to learn French - cost is free for one and 11€/year) and start my own private tutoring in English. This has been a great outlet for me to spend my days, write lesson plans, and network with people in town to build a client base and make some professional / social contacts. For me, moving to a new country, learning a new language and having completely new experiences has been the best decision in my life! I love our life, despite the difficulties of being apart. The first year was the hardest, and things get easier and easier, but they are easier for us because he put in the hard work to advance himself and we sacrificed so much to have him be successful.
For the first five years, a Legionnaire is not given much choice about where and when he is deployed (aside from his level of French, his performance in his section/company, and his reputation on base). Afghanistan & Abu Dhabi deployments are 6 months long, Nouvelle Caledonie & Ivory Coast are 4 months long, French Guyane is 2 years with the possibility of adding a 3rd year.There are also stages in the first five years that range from 2 weeks - 4 months to prepare a soldier for his area of specialization. Again, a Legionnaire's progression in the military is dependent on his initiative, asking for trainings and studying French so that he can advance his CV (resume). This ranges from urban combat, sniper trainings (4 different trainings I believe currently), Drivers License (auto, heavy trucks, special military transport vehicles), transmission (radio), CNEC (mountain survival training), just to name a few. For those who are more advanced in their French and progress, there are opportunities like Stage Sante (combat medic, 4 months long), and usually around the 18 month mark you can be eligible for a 2 month Corporal Stage. After 3 years you can be eligible for Seargent Stage, although it is a complex process as "who you know" and how much they like you play a significant part in being recommended for these.
I commented recently on a FFL You Tube comment about someone wanting to join the FFL but he has a girlfriend and a baby on the way. He asked my advice on whether I thought it was a fit for him. My advice to him would be to have a serious conversation with his girlfriend about the sacrifices short-term they will need to make in order to build a career for him. When we decided to join the Legion (yes, I do say we decided that we would join the Legion, even though they are just now acknowledging my existence LOL), he had shared that he had this goal for many years, and I was the one who said "Well, let's do it...together." However, we do not have children and I feel that if we did, I would have had to stay behind until we could have gotten married so that would could have the military benefits for the children. Also, be mindful that the Legion pays about the equivalent of $1500/month on the continent, about $2000/month as a Parachutist.....do you feel you can support a wife and child on that? It is possible, but I will tell you that going from a two person income to a one person income is an adjustment and you and your family have to be ready for that.
I hope this helps someone, and I hope that you will comment and let me know about your experiences.