Major Franck M. : The Legion was my chance

This interesting interview appeared in La Dépêche du Midi – a French regional daily newspaper – seven months ago, on 17 February 2021. In June 2021, Major Franck M. [1] from the 4th Foreign Regiment (4e RE) in Castelnaudary left the Foreign Legion after having spent incredible 40 years and 6 months in the institution [2]. Read his famous life story in English.

1. Major is a French rank equivalent to the rank of Warrant Officer with the appointement of the regimental sergeant major.

2. 40 years of service is an official maximum in the Legion; however, you can serve à titre exceptionnel until you don't reach the age limit (59 years for majors).

4e RE 2021 - Major Franck M. : The Legion was my chance
Major Franck M. in 2021.


Homeless at the age of 16

Next June, Franck M. will hang up his green beret after 41 years in the Legion. This native of Martinique remembers a chaotic life path.

He was only 16 when he was emancipated and left to his own fate in Paris. To survive, the teenager lived off the streets, doing stupid things that led him straight to prison. “The trigger was there, in the prison. I quickly realized that I didn’t want that life,” he confides. He got out before the trial. There is no chance, they say, there are chance encounters. It was exactly an encounter that changed the course of the young delinquent’s life.

Sitting on the terrace of a café in Paris, I see a guy with tattoos and we chat. He had just finished five years in the Foreign Legion; when I told him my story, he advised me to join. The only problem was that I didn’t really know what it was,” recalls the warrant officer. He then went to the Fort of Nogent. It was in 1980, he was not yet 17 years old. He was expelled but did not give up. On January 20, 1981, at 17 years and 2 days old [3], he signed his enlistment contract. “I wanted to get myself back on track. I had prepared myself, I knew it would be hard but I wanted to show my family, who thought I was going to be a scoundrel, that I was making an effort to get out.”

3. At the time, you was allowed to join the Legion even at 17.


Directly toward Calvi

It should have gone through Castelnaudary, but there were not enough places. About forty volunteers were sent directly to the prestigious 2e REP, a parachute regiment in Calvi, Corsica. There, it was a shock for the turbulent teenager, thrown into a world of men with a staff that was not trained for instruction. [4]

I discovered the word cohesion. I was the youngest, the only one who had no experience in the military world. Physically, morally, it was hard… they all supported me to get over this training barrier. I found what I was missing to get myself back on track. There, no discussion possible, no compromise or state of mind…

4. Around 1980, because of the smaller capacity at the Caserne Lapasset, then-home of the 4e RE, some recruits were sent to the regular Legion regiments (2e REI, 2e REP, or 1er REC) to get basic training there.


From Polynesia to Castelnaudary

After his courses in Corte [5], in 1984, he left for the nuclear site of Mururoa, in Polynesia [6]. In 1986, he met Castelnaudary, the Lauragais region, the land of rugby, the land of the Spangheros. “I had opened the game as a cadet, in Ile de France, the final of Du Manoir where Claude Spanghero played, I met with him.” Franck M. would play little, for lack of time – he was a sports instructor with the regiment at the time.

In 1988, he became a sergeant and stayed 3 more years in Castelnaudary as a sergeant instructor. His stay was all the more unforgettable as it was here that he met Françoise, who was to become his wife and who would give him two beautiful sons. His “most beautiful meeting in Castelnaudary“, he says.

Then he headed for Djibouti. It was the time when the 13e DBLE went on mission to Somalia. Ten months which will mark forever the seasoned soldier, confronted with famine, with women and children dying, underfed, whom he would try to help as he could. [7]

A drop of water in an ocean, but there comes a time when the human being takes over, otherwise it means that we have no value; I grew up like that, through the Legion, with solidarity“. In 1994, he left for Nîmes [8], still in a combat unit. Staff sergeant on the promotion list, he was given a platoon. A nice sign of confidence. He rose in rank and his chief suggested that he take the officer exam, which he refused so as not to disappoint him by failing.

5. Corte was the then garrison of the 2e REI in Corsica.

6. In French Polynesia, he joined the 5e RE.

7. Operation Oryx (Dec 1992 - May 1993), a French humanitarian operation in Somalia, part of the U.S. Operation Restore Hope; 13e DBLE, 2e REP, and 6e REG (1er REG now) participated. The operation is well known thanks to the Black Hawk Down incident.

8. Nîmes is the new and current garrison of the 2e REI.


Monsieur Légionnaire

From 2000-2002, he was sent to French Guyana as a platoon leader [9]. “The two best years of the forty-one I spent in the institution,” remembers Franck. Missions in the equatorial forest, a 40 kg load on his back, complete autonomy with 40 legionnaires under his command… “There I discovered Monsieur Légionnaire (Mr. Legionnaire); I became aware that whether you’re a rank or a simple legionnaire, everyone does the same thing, strength of character, you put on your shirt and it moves forward. Cohesion, strong moments… that created bonds that, 19 years later, still endure.”

In 2002, he returned to Nîmes, as company first sergeant, “the one who watches over discipline, cleanliness, the one we don’t like“, he smiles. He would remain so until 2009. After registering for the major competition [10], he watched his comrades leave for Afghanistan. A heartbreak that made him ask for the “4” and Castelnaudary to avoid the disappointment of “being the one who didn’t go”.

As a consolation, he passed the famous competition in 2009. Colonel Talbourdel, then-head of the Fortes têtes [11], offered him to become an officer promoted from the ranks. Because he was president of the non-commissioned officers, he declined this opportunity: “I would not have wanted any of those who had elected me to think that I had used this position for that purpose.” From 2013 to 2016, he left for the United Arab Emirates [12]. This is not the mission that would please him the most.

9. In French Guiana, he served with the 3e REI.

10. Major competitions have been held in the Legion since early 1978; usually, around 20-30 adjudant-chefs participate and the best of them are selected. In the 1970s, the rank of major replaced the old sergent-major.

11. Fortes têtes (headstrong men) was the old nickname for the 4th Foreign Regiment, used more or less until 2019-2020. "School of the Legion" is replacing it, step by step.

12. In the United Arab Emirates, he joined the 13e DBLE based there between 2011 and 2016.


Strong bonds with Castelnaudary

In 2016, back to Castelnaudary, as head of the reconversion office. “This is the exit door of a legionnaire who returns to the civilian world; some were lost, lost like me, when I joined.” He will do everything to help them in this return to civilian life, so complicated for many. It was then that he met with the regional economic world, Pôle emploi, the temporary employment agencies, the Greta [13], “who helped me a lot and whom I would like to thank.”

His personality will do a lot for that, as it will with the ties he’s made to his adopted town. “I thought that as a soldier, it would be complicated. Not at all, on the contrary,” says the non-commissioned officer, with a word for Mayor Patrick Maugard, whose friendly loyalty to the regiment he salutes. “When he comes, he is happy.”

Although he has not been an officer, the major carried out the function of assistant officer with the 3rd Enlisted Volunteer Company [14], from 2018 to 2020, “two wonderful years with Captain Thibault. Leaders like that, everyone would want them.” Since last summer, he is at the secretariat of the Defense Sports Clubs at “4”. “To gently say goodbye to the Green Beret family.” He will not be a reservist, nor will he be part of a club “because the highlights will be behind. This is my decision today. Many people tell me that I won’t make it.” He doesn’t see himself in representation nor in action. He plans to retire to the coast, has applied for a part-time job to keep time… for others. “I promised my sons, I want to volunteer at the Restos du cœur and Emmaus. A life to serve…” [15]

13. Pôle emploi is a French governmental agency which registers unemployed people, helps them find jobs and provides them with financial aid; Greta is a French governmental structure that organizes education courses and training for unemployed people.

14. One of the three CEV (Enlisted Volunteer Company) within the 4e RE. These companies gather the Legion's enlisted volunteers and provide them with basic training.

15. Emmaüs and the Restos du coeur are French charities, helping to those with a low or very low income (single families, old people with a low pension, etc.)

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You can find the original article on LaDepeche:
Major Franck M. : “La Légion a été ma chance”.

4e RE 2021 - Major Franck M. : The Legion was my chance
Then-Adjudant Franck M. twenty years ago, in the early 2000s, when he was back in 2e REI. On the extreme right, partially turned, a certain Lieutenant Capdeville. From 2019-2021, he was Major Franck‘s colonel with the 4e RE. Both men left the 4e RE and the Legion in mid-2021.

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