French Foreign Legion in 2024

Created in 1831, the French Foreign Legion is an integral part of the French (Land) Army (Armée de Terre) and thus an element of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. In 2024, the Foreign Legion is composed of almost 9,500 officers, NCOs, and legionnaires, comprising around 150 nationalities from all over the world. They represent 12% of France’s Land Operational Force (FOT).

French Foreign Legion in 2024 - Organization - Regiments - Equipment - Missions

In 2024, the Foreign Legion consists of a HQ Command and eleven regiments and regiment-like autonomous units. At the top of its structure is the HQ Command (COMLE), headed by a general who had previously served with the institution and led one of its operational regiments. He oversees the Legion and reports to the Chief of Staff of the French Army, advising him on Foreign Legion matters. Directly subordinate to the COMLE are three non-deployable units: the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE; administration of personnel), the 4th Foreign Regiment (4e RE; training, instruction), and the Recruiting Group (GRLE; recruitment). Altogether they form the so-called “socle” of the Legion.

In addition, there are six fully deployable, operational units: two motorized infantry regiments (2e REI, 13e DBLE) and an airborne regiment (2e REP), each comprising around 1,300 men. These are followed by a cavalry regiment (1er REC; around 900 men) and two combat engineer regiments (1er REG, 2e REG), both also consisting of about 900 men.

Lastly, two overseas units are stationed abroad to maintain a French presence and guard national interests: France’s second most decorated regiment – 3e REI – in French Guiana, South America, and the DLEM in Mayotte, in the Indian Ocean. These smaller operational units comprise personnel who rotate either every four months (non-permanent) or every two to three years (permanent).

Except for the well-known GCP (parachute commandos) in the 2e REP, the GCM (mountain commandos) in the 2e REG, and the PCG combat divers (in both REGs), each infantry regiment possesses its own commando-like unit, SAED, while the REC has PAE. These action support platoons may provide support for their regiment or be assigned to the brigade command if needed.

In 2024, only a man between 17.5 and 39.5 years may join the Legion, 24/7/365. Each candidate is enlisted officially under a false identity, as an unmarried foreigner, and signs an initial five-year contract. The basic pay of a legionnaire is currently about 1,560 euro net ($1,700 USD). The pay increases based on his specialty, rank, and deployment. Up to (and including) the rank of corporal, each legionnaire is housed and fed for free. After the five-year contract is over, he can get a French work permit. Also, a legionnaire may request French nationality once he has passed three years of service. (He obtains it automatically if he is seriously injured during an action.) After 17.5 years of service, he is eligible for a retirement pension.

The legionnaire is still distinguished by the green beret he wears for garrison duty, training, and operations and by the white képi (képi blanc), green-red epaulettes, and blue sash he wears during ceremonies. The officers and NCOs wear a black képi.

Almost all regiments of the current Foreign Legion have a reserve company, composed of French-born non-Legion volunteers (majority) and former legionnaires. Typically comprising some 70-90 men, reserve companies usually participate in missions inside metropolitan France (e.g., Operation Sentinelle). On the other hand, they don’t take part in combat operations abroad. During their service, the reservists are uniformed like legionnaires, including the green beret. Wearing the white képi is forbidden for them, however (except for former legionnaires).

The modern legionnaire is, in 2024, equipped with the HK 416 F rifle as his principal weapon. This German rifle has almost replaced the legendary French FAMAS, though the latter is still in use. Other equipment was also replaced in recent years. The FN MAG 58 machine gun took the place of the long-used AANF1, either carried by a gunner or mounted on a vehicle, while the SCAR-H PR precision rifle ousted the FR F2. The old MILAN anti-tank guided missile system was replaced by the AKERON MP medium-range missile (also known as MMP). As for vehicles, Griffons and VT4s are replacing the old VAB carriers and P4 off-road cars, while the Jaguar combat vehicle with a 40 mm gun supersedes the AMX 10 RCR tank-destroyer. The combat (support) company legionnaires have also begun to use drones.

Apart from constant training, numerous military maneuvers, and standard duties inside the barracks, the principal missions of a legionnaire are the anti-terrorist Operation Sentinelle in French cities (also known as Vigipirate mission; part of a state of emergency, it consists of patrolling streets and guarding sensitive objects), military operations in Africa (though in a reduced mode after the end of Operation Barkhane), peacekeeping missions (like that in Lebanon), and NATO-allied reassuring security missions (e.g., Mission Lynx in Estonia). There are also the so-called MCD (short-term missions, usually lasting four months) carried out in overseas territories of France (French Guiana, Mayotte, New Caledonia, Reunion, Martinique) or in the French bases installed in allied countries of Africa (e.g., Djibouti). In addition, motorized infantry and combat engineer legionnaires regularly deploy on board a French ship as part of a maritime mission (lasting several months), traveling mainly along the African coast. The legionnaires also participate in joint military exercises, including those in the U.S. (e.g., the one in California) and Australia.

Because of the new “cold war” that started in 2022, and following its NATO obligations, the French government decided to spend over 400 billion euros ($439 billion) on upgrading the current French Army in the period of 2024-2030. The plan is for the army to become a “Combat” one (Armée de combat), ready for high-intensity warfare. One of the initial goals of that upgrade was achieved in late 2023 when the 6th Light Armored Brigade (6e BLB), led by a former Foreign Legion officer, became France’s first combined arms brigade equipped with new-generation materiel and ready for an operational deployment, as a whole. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the majority of the brigade’s units are Foreign Legion regiments.

Therefore, the position of the Foreign Legion within the French Army is very solid in 2024. Its regiments are among the elite ones, not only in France but also among the Western armies. In recent decades, they have regularly deployed to various theaters of operations, including in Africa and Afghanistan. The legionnaires are known among their French and Western colleagues as well-trained universal soldiers, physically and mentally very resilient, able to quickly deploy anywhere around the world and serve there in any kind of weather conditions (from freezing cold to tropical heat), and easily managing a wide range of weapons. They are led by experienced NCOs (chosen among the legionnaires, except for a few specialized positions reserved for detached French cadres blancs, including women) and officers who graduated in the top ranks of French military academies. Moreover, about 20% of current officers started their Legion career as simple legionnaires (over the past two decades, their number has doubled).

Thanks to the Legion’s long and rich warfighting history and its uniqueness regarding traditional recruitment, the legionnaires have a great esprit de corps, an essential component of a fighting force. This esprit de corps is embodied in the most important holiday for the Foreign Legion, Camerone Day (April 30). It marks the famous 1863 Battle of Camerone in Mexico, portrayed as a pure example of bravery and determination to fight to the finish. Furthermore, unlike the rest of the French Army, the Legion has always been considered a strongly Christian and Catholic-oriented institution in France. Thus, Christmas Eve is the second most important holiday for that unique force. Within each unit, from a simple legionnaire with only a few months of service to the most senior officer, all men pass this evening together, sharing a meal and gifts. And that’s to be expected. After all, the main motto of the Foreign Legion is “Legio Patria Nostra,” the Legion is our homeland. The legionnaires see themselves as members of one big, strong family, regardless of their nationality, race, or religion. And that still holds true in 2024.

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2023 Legion Christmas nativity scenes
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