Working with the French Army

09Jul13

This article was published in several parts on BreachBangClear.com on 9 July (http://www.breachbangclear.com/site/10-blog/426-contributor-chris-hernandez-on-working-with-the-french-army.html).

————————————————


US Army soldiers with French Marine snipers and French Air Force JTACs, Firebase Morales-Frasier, Kapisa province, Afghanistan, Fall 2009. Author is standing at left side of French Bretagne flag, wearing tan ball cap.

In Afghanistan I worked alongside the French Army. This made me world famous in France. As a matter of fact, I even made the August 2009 cover of RAIDS magazine, which is a sort of French Soldier of Fortune:

I look awesome, don’t I? Unfortunately, the photographer who took that photograph wasn’t very good. I’m off-center in the picture, in addition to being badly blurred. Here’s another version, where I’m highlighted a bit better:

Okay, so maybe I’m not as big of a deal in France as I thought. But working with the French Army was still one of the highlights of my military career.

Almost every time I tell someone I worked with the French, I get comments like, “You mean the French have an army?”, “Did they surrender to you the day you got there?”, or some other variation of the “cheese-eating surrender monkey” theme. And if they don’t outright insult French troops, they usually dismiss my experience by saying, “Oh, you must have been working with the Foreign Legion. They’re not really French.”

Those comments really get on my nerves. And they’re flat out wrong. I served with a few Legionnaires and a lot of regular French troops. Whatever the French public’s or government’s politics are, their soldiers are brave, well-trained, in fantastic shape and aggressive. Describing those men as cowards is absolutely unfair.

Admittedly, I had a low opinion of French soldiers before I served with them. In Kosovo, the French military had a reputation as being politically biased and ineffective. As a UN cop I worked with French gendarmes, a type of military police officer. They didn’t like the regular French military either.

So in early 2009, when I was told I was going to a French firebase in Afghanistan, I was a little worried. I didn’t speak French, didn’t have a positive view of their troops, and was worried I’d be stuck inside the wire with people who didn’t want to be in combat. I had spent all of my Iraq deployment in a humvee on a convoy escort team; that mission sucked, and I wanted nothing to do with fobbit life or force protection. In Afghanistan I wanted to spend as much time as possible on foot with guys who wanted to fight. The French didn’t seem that type.

Then I started investigating. I went to soldiers who had been in Afghanistan for a while and asked what they thought about the French. And I heard something I didn’t expect, a phrase I was to hear many times during my deployment:

“The only soldiers here who really want to fight are the Americans, Brits and French.”

This phrase was, of course, totally unfair to the Australians and Canadians. It may have been unfair to the Germans, who had a reputation as frustrated warriors whose government didn’t allow them to blitzkrieg Taliban like they wanted to. It didn’t give nearly enough credit to some Afghan National Army units who were aggressive and eager for battle.

But in addition to giving the French well-deserved praise, the phrase did address a certain unpleasant truth. Some countries, apparently in response to American political pressure, grudgingly sent troops to Afghanistan. Those troops were either mandated to stay inside the wire, or when they went out showed zero desire to risk their lives for a cause they must not have believed in.

As an example, one of my best friends worked with a different nation’s troops (I won’t name which nation because I have no firsthand experience working with them and don’t want to slander them all; however, my friend is a reliable, experienced veteran of multiple deployments, and I believe him). According to my friend, this nation’s soldiers would “patrol” by finding an open field not far outside the wire, sit for hours, then go back to the FOB. They took great pains to avoid danger and when engaged immediately broke contact. He described an experience at the Tactical Operations Center, where cameras caught a Taliban cell emplacing a rocket at a frequently-used launch site. As they watched the Taliban preparing to fire on the FOB, my friend asked, “Why don’t you fire on them?”

One of the foreign military officers answered, “We can’t. They haven’t fired on us yet.”

The Taliban launched the rocket. Without a word, everyone in the TOC jumped up and sprinted for bunkers. They knew from experience that rockets from that site would impact in about fifteen seconds. My friend chased them to cover. A few seconds later the rocket exploded. Everyone ran back to the TOC. The camera showed the Taliban hurriedly leaving the area.

Frustrated, my friend asked, “Why the hell don’t you shoot at them now?”

The answer was, “We can’t shoot. Now they’re unarmed.”

Another foreign military, the Italian Army, was widely believed to have paid the Taliban not to attack them. The French were furious about that, with good reason. In 2008 French Paratroopers took over an Area of Operations from the Italians. The Italians had suffered only one death during the previous year in that AO, and assessed the area as low-risk. The French accepted that assessment, and sent one of their first patrols into the area with light weapons and only 100 rounds each, their then-standard combat load.

The patrol was ambushed. One group of ten troops was separated, pinned down, surrounded and wiped out to the last man. Despite what the Italians reported, Taliban forces were extremely strong in that area. But they rarely attacked the Italians, just as Iraqi insurgents rarely attacked Italians around Nasiriyah when I was at Tallil in 2005. Gee, I wonder why.

I arrived in Afghanistan six months after that ambush. Over the next nine months, I went on numerous patrols and reconnaissance missions with the French Mountain Troops and Marines. I learned to speak French well enough that I was able to relay information between American and French radio networks. At times I was the only American on French missions. My worries about working with them were completely unfounded, and since then I get pretty angry whenever I hear tired, old “Frenchmen are cowards” remarks.

ONE BIG DIFFERENCE

We in the US military are often treated like mentally-slow kindergartners. I think every last soldier in the US Army becomes homicidally violent at the thought of wearing a reflective belt in a combat zone. I used to shake my head at new unit commanders in Bagram who ordered their soldiers to travel everywhere inside the wire with a battle buddy, even to a porta-john right outside their tent. Many of us, especially senior NCOs, bristle at the hand-holding, “you’re too stupid to trust” mentality that has permeated the Army.

And don’t even get me started on General Order number One, the prohibition on alcohol. I don’t drink, but just about everyone else in the world does. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to allow grown men and women to escape the stress of war with a beer or two. Apparently our command thinks if they allow us to drink we’ll all go on kill-crazy rampages a la Robert Bales. The thought of moderate alcohol use under controlled conditions induces an automatic brain aneurism in our senior leaders. The French, on the other hand, don’t have that problem.


A typical hangout with the French and Afghans. Americans drink soda instead of alcohol to avoid offending Afghans, who of course are drinking alcohol with the French.

Many Americans have asked me, “Is it true the French served wine at dinner and had wine in their MREs?” The answer is yes and no. They not only served wine at dinner, they sometimes served it at lunch as well. The firebase I was on, which wasn’t that big, had three bars. The regular French Joes could have all the alcohol they wanted in their tents.

I went on a week-long mission to a combat outpost with a French recon platoon. The outpost was at the furthest edge of coalition control, surrounded by Taliban. One of their company XO’s, a captain, accompanied us. When we occupied the outpost, the first thing the troops did was pop open beers and break out steaks to grill.


French Army troops and Air Force JTACs at a combat outpost, Alasai Valley, Kapisa province, Afghanistan. Photo by author.

I had a conversation with the French captain about stupid things that happen in the American military, like the sergeant major and captain in Iraq whose only apparent duty was screaming at troops in the DFAC for wearing paracord bracelets. I’ll never forget the French captain standing there totally relaxed with a beer in hand, without armor or helmet, troops drinking and grilling behind him, telling me, “Things like that don’t happen in the French Army.”

So yes, the French could drink as long as it didn’t interfere with their duties. But alas, the French MREs I saw didn’t have wine rations. Sorry, guys.

Oh, and I don’t remember seeing even one French soldier wearing a reflective belt.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

To readers currently in the military this is old news, but civilian readers may not appreciate the dramatic effect sexual harassment complaints have had on us. We’re constantly reminded of the punishment for committing sexual harassment, or not reporting it. Sexual harassment training and prevention classes are always being held. It’s a huge issue in the military.

Here’s an example: after my deployment I picked up an additional duty of preparing a weekly presentation for a group of stressed out, overly serious staff officers. The presentation was way too formal, so I began adding joke pictures to the final slide. The pictures were a hit. Then I tried to add this picture to one presentation:

I thought it was funny as hell. The officers I worked for, of course, deemed it far too offensive. I didn’t see why (and still don’t), but still had to remove it. I suppose the picture might offend female officers who used to be strippers or male officers who married strippers. Whatever the reason, this picture fell outside the boundaries of common decency. That’s the US military for you.

So, how might the French have felt about that picture, or about sexual harassment?

When my team began operations, the French had a going-away party for the outgoing team. Males and females, officer and enlisted mingled over French food and wine. Europeans are really into DJing, so a French officer played music videos with a laptop and projector. Some of those videos were from huge discos in Europe where people strip and have sex on stage; in effect, the French officer was playing techno porn videos on a big screen to female soldiers. I saw this happen on more than one occasion.

NOBODY CARED. There were no sexual harassment complaints, or threats of complaints. I never even heard of a sexual harassment incident among the French.

When the French Marines took over, I attended weekly briefings with their battalion commander. The battalion commander opened every brief with a joke, usually a picture. One female officer was on his staff. At the beginning of one briefing, the BC showed a series of pictures of naked women painted to look like animals. All the officers in the room, including the female, laughed at each one. Then the BC told the female, “So you don’t feel left out, here’s one for you,” and showed a picture of a naked man painted like an elephant. The female laughed in appreciation. In the US Army, the BC would have been relieved.

A French soldier in one of the line platoons had a girlfriend in Headquarters Company. His platoon shared a big tent that had been partitioned into individual cubicles. Every night he wasn’t in the field, his girlfriend stayed with him. Nobody up the chain of command said a word to him about it. As one French officer told me, “Our only rule about sex is, ‘be smart’”.

My French friends used to gently kid me about the “puritan mentality” of American society. They were right. The French seem to have gotten past that. They expect their soldiers not just to fight, but to enjoy life’s basic pleasures while they do it.

COMBAT

Contrary to conventional American wisdom, the French liked to fight. I accompanied them when they, Afghan troops and a handful of Americans invaded a Taliban-held valley. Despite comments from people who have no actual experience with them, French troops don’t run from a contact. They like to advance toward the enemy and shoot. A lot.


French mountain troops advancing into the Alasai Valley as Afghan soldier fires a 12.7mm “Dushka” machine gun. Still from a video by photographer Thomas Goisque. http://www.thomasgoisque-photo.com

When we invaded that valley, the French blew through a hell of a lot of ammo. They dropped 81mm and 120mm mortar rounds. They flung Milan anti-tank missiles at any worthy target. Their tanks blew big holes in Taliban-held compounds. They called in many air strikes (all American at that time, French aircraft supported them in later missions). One French vehicle was set afire by an RPG and its driver killed; the French carried on instead of being paralyzed by the loss. One of the more inspiring things I’ve seen was a group of French soldiers recovering their dead, burned comrade from the vehicle later that night.

The Mountain Troops got into several engagements during their deployment. A couple of those were intense, prolonged contacts; one was a gigantic, battalion-plus, multi-day fight. The French Marines got into over ninety contacts during their six-month deployment. Neither unit shied away from combat.


French troops and armor in the Alasai Valley, Kapisa province, Afghanistan, 2009. US Military photo.

One giant advantage the French had over us was with their use of tanks. We maintain an armored force that’s fantastic at defeating T-80s crossing the Fulda Gap, not quite so fantastic at fighting insurgents in mountainous valleys. The French had AMX-10s, light wheeled tanks that were perfect for counterinsurgency combat. They were a tremendous force multiplier.

One night before a major operation, I was laid out in the dirt on an outpost perimeter. I had fallen asleep at midnight. At 3 a.m. a tremendous explosion woke me. I lay still for a few moments, then asked a Marine on guard, “What the hell was that?”

He answered, “I don’t know, but something went right over our heads.”

When the sun rose, I was stunned to see an AMX-10 halfway up a mountain behind the outpost. A brave and/or stupid tank crew had rolled up a narrow trail in the dark, and hit some Taliban.

I didn’t envy the poor driver who had to negotiate that trail. Or the loader who I’m sure had to walk ahead of the tank, knowing that if he made a mistake his crew was rolling down the mountain. As a former tanker, I can tell you that driving a tank up a mountain in the dark isn’t something cowards do.

PHYSICAL FITNESS

As I mentioned before, the French were in pretty good shape. I wouldn’t say they’d outdo the typical American infantry unit, but they were in better shape than a lot of Americans thought they were. This led to at least one pretty funny situation with a platoon of American pathfinders.

My friends told me that back in France they had very little vehicle support for training. If a company needed a full complement of APCs for an exercise, they’d have to strip every vehicle in their entire battalion. They were used to walking everywhere, and like most Europeans they lived a much less sedentary life than we do. The Mountain Troops climbed mountains all week during training, then on weekends some of them would get together and climb mountains for fun. It’s just their way of life.

On one mission, American pathfinders from another base were going to climb a mountain to set an overwatch position with the French. One of the French captains later told me the pathfinders expressed concern that the French wouldn’t be able to keep up (“You guys sure you’re in shape? You think you can hang?” ). The captain assured them his troops would be fine.

The mission began the next morning. The pathfinders were way overloaded, and started lagging within the first few hundred meters. The French captain laughingly told me he and his men had to pick up a trail of magazines and water the pathfinders dumped, and eventually had to physically help the pathfinders make it to the top. The pathfinders didn’t talk trash after that.

One of my crazier buddies was a sniper in the French Marine Regiment (which is part of the Army). He was a little guy, about 5’7” and 150 pounds. On missions he carried the standard body armor, a forty-pound PGM .50 caliber sniper rifle, a ruck with all the rest of his gear – and a MINIMI (essentially an M249 SAW) up front. Despite the fact that he was humping his own body weight, he refused to carry a FAMAS carbine instead of the MINIMI because he thought he’d need more firepower if his hide was compromised. I went on several missions with his team, and on most of those we’d have to climb three or so hours in the dark to set an overwatch. I never saw him slow down, despite the 150 pound load.


French Marine sniper and spotter. Photo by author.

The sniper’s MINIMI broke one day at the range. He turned it in to the armorer, but they didn’t have a spare. He came to me the day before a mission and asked if I could find him another SAW. I told him we only had M4s, M14s and an M240B machine gun.

He pursed his lips and asked, “May I see the machine gun?”

An M240 is way heavier than a MINIMI. I thought, there’s no way he can carry a 240 and a sniper rifle. But I said, “Sure, I’ll show it to you.”

We went to my team’s tent. The sniper lifted the 240, considered the weight. “This is not bad. May I see the ammunition?”

I handed him a hundred round belt in a bandoleer. He nodded, said, “Yes, this will be fine. One hundred rounds on each side of my body armor, another one hundred in the weapon, and three hundred more in my pack. That will not be too heavy. May I borrow it, please?”

I shook my head. Just the extra ammo weight would have nearly killed my then-38-year-old back. The sniper, though, could have handled it. “Dude, you’re insane. But if you want it, go ahead.”

We took the gun to his tent. Later, his team leader saw it and said hell no. The sniper was disappointed. We both knew he could have carried that much weight.

As it turned out, the team leader made the right call. During that mission, we were caught on a mountaintop by a surprise hailstorm that killed three French troops. That mission was the most physically brutal experience I’ve ever had, and even though I was carrying a light load I was barely able to keep up. But I didn’t see a single French Marine struggle to make the hike up the mountain, or struggle down after the storm, or fall out during the long walk out of the valley. I didn’t even see any of them fall back when we were ordered back into the valley and up the mountain again. (See my blog post, “Even God hates us” for the full story.)

RELATIONSHIPS

French Marine snipers, one of my soldiers and me after a mission, September 2009

French Marine snipers, one of my soldiers and me after a mission, September 2009

From battalion level down, the French were easy to work with and seemed proud to serve alongside Americans. One thing that impressed me immensely was that many of the Mountain Troops wore American combat patches, especially 82nd Airborne and 101st Airmobile. Many French troops were madly in love with our weapons, and jumped at the opportunity to train with us.


French First Sergeant firing American M14EBR. Photo by author.

They were also very receptive to integrating Americans into their teams. My team, among others, developed a fantastic working relationship with the French, and has maintained close friendships with many of them. One visited me in Texas, and another is coming soon. One of the Marines moved to the US, married an American girl and is waiting anxiously for his citizenship. I’ll be proud to call him an American.

AN APPEAL TO WARRIORS

The French military is pretty damn good. They’re not perfect, but neither are we. I saw French troops and commanders make mistakes and bad calls, I heard Joes grumbling about bad leadership. I’ve seen the same thing in the US Marines and Army. The French have a few quirks, but overall they’re extremely dedicated, proficient and brave.

And now we get to my point. Guys, I didn’t write all this just for entertainment value. I also wrote it as a plea. I’d ask that Americans, especially American warriors, reconsider any negative views they might have about French troops.

The French went to war in Afghanistan, and have lost almost a hundred men killed, not because France was attacked. They fought for us, because we were attacked. And they hung in for years, taking casualties but not quitting the fight. They didn’t pull their major forces out until they began taking serious losses from green-on-blue attacks. I don’t blame them one bit for refusing to support a nation whose troops are murdering them.

Today the French are fighting our common terrorist enemy in Africa, taking losses but beating the enemy senseless. They deserve praise and respect for what they did in Afghanistan and what they continue to do today. Old jokes about rifles only being dropped once, or “satirical” articles about French troops trying to surrender, aren’t just stupid clichés. They’re blatant insults toward brave, honorable men who figuratively stood shoulder to shoulder with us as a nation and literally stood shoulder to shoulder with us as soldiers.

Let’s drop the bad comedy routines, and show them the respect they’ve earned.

Clips of French troops in combat:



240 Responses to “Working with the French Army”

  1. 1 Yann

    Hi chris. Just dropping by to quickly return the favour.

    I had the opportunity to serve alongside US servicemen, mostly officers from the different service branches in late 2011 and early 2012 as an embed in the ISAF HQ (yeah, quite far removed from the realities of Surobi and Kapisa).
    That period was tough on the french politician will and on the nerves of our boots on the ground.
    But the guys I was with were really supportive, professional and all around nice, that really helped. It was my first real deployment in warzone and I couldn’t have dreamt of a better workmates. Integrating among the US-led team was a truly breeze on all points.
    While I can’t talk on the matter of valley cleansing and COIN from the warrior’s perspective, I can attest that some of your observations about our differences and our similarities are verified in other fields.
    The one big thing that hurts our interoperability though is the latent inability of some french personnel to speak in an acceptable english (and no, I’m not targetting the enlisted).

    We all have our quirks and defects though :)
    I remember a certain individual from Louisiana who would dip even during some of our briefings. I found dipping to be a disgusting habit, but that was compensating for my own smoking habits ;)
    I also remember the quasi-bollocking I received from my CO upon learning of a national exemption for the french regarding the consumption of alcohol for the end of year festivities. Needless to say I didn’t overdrink.

    But generally speaking, out of the office, most of the yanks I had to interact with were really polite and helpful, well nice basically, and that from the BGen. to the private. My time there will remain a highpoint of my likely short career. But the US guys I had the opportunity to work with rocked and contributed to a hell of a professional experience that would have been normally way out of my league without their help.

    Lastly, on the topic of the relationship between the officers and the enlisted in the french military, I’d wager to say that it is due to some social tensions in hierarchichal relationships that are inherent to the french society, history and mindset. The french sometimes often to put the blame of the higher echelon (and often rightfully so). Militarily speaking this may happen in some branches or services where what the leadership does may seem disconnected and blurry to the enlisted and junior officers. On the observation that one of your countrymen made earlier in the flow of comments, being a soldier is a true commitment here due to the perceived lack of support by our countrymen and by our own institutions. All this when combied may sometimes induce a serious fear of messing up. As pointed out before, this may be another part of the answer to the nervousness of our guys around “barrettes” (officers).

    Anyway, thanks for the nice read, take care.
    And let’s have a thought for all the guys still out there. Among all of them, there are still around 400 french guys, including some friends whom I left a month ago.

    And now, towards new battlefields ! or erm… multinational HQs or FOBs :D

    PS: please forgive me for any mistakes, my english skills likely became a bit rusty since that time in the JOC ;)

    • Yann,

      I apologize, I missed this comment earlier. I’m happy to hear you had a good experience working with American troops. I think many French and Americans have learned valuable lessons about each other during the last 12 years. It’s up to us to carry these lessons forward, and hopefully repair some of the unnecessary damage that has been done in relations between our two countries.

      And d’accord, let’s remember all our men and women, French and American, who are still in the fight.

      Chris

      p.s. No need to apologize for your English, it is much better than my French.

      • 3 Rena

        Chris,

        Would love to chat with you sometime. I served with the French in Afghanistan too. I received the French National Defense Medal.. I loved my time with TF Lafayette! I would not have changed my combat tour for all the money in the world. I am still dear friends with my comrades and I miss them hugely.

        Thanks for your article. I have engaged in very similar conversations and believe me I have squared a few idiots away.

        R

        • Rena,

          It seems like TF Lafayette gave French awards to a lot of Americans, TF Tiger and Korrigan didn’t. I’m not complaining, but it would have been nice to have even the lowest level French ribbon on my uniform. I’ll email you, I’d love to hear about your experiences with Lafayette.

          • I deeply regret that you din’t receive any french medal. You, just with this wonderful proof of friendship for french troops you gave with your article, deserve a “Légion d’Honneur”.
            Thank you very much.

  2. 6 Snake

    Bonjour Chris,
    I just read the article above and then “Even God hates us” when I reached your comment about Ash. It woke up a few memories of my time with the Regiment. Thanks for writing this article (I forwarded it to a few friends) and for the comment about Gab and Ash. “H” was a fantastic team leader.
    “For all those who’ve been down range to us and those like us damn few!”
    S

    • Snake,

      Were you on that team? As I recall, the team leader was named “N”. Was Ash also a team leader?

      As I said in the article, I didn’t know Ash well. I had a couple of conversations with him at his tent. He was an impressive guy, and even though we weren’t close I still felt the pain of his, Gabriel and Kevin’s deaths. What a loss to France, and under such terrible circumstances.

      I remember seeing the team leader “N” walking to the shower the day after the mission. Several French Marines were standing outside the shower tent talking, then N walked up with no shirt on. He had huge red welts all over his arms, upper back and shoulders. I knew he had them because he was out in the hail trying to find Ash and Gabriel after they were swept away. When he walked to the shower, the Marines suddenly got quiet.

      Thank you for reading and commenting on my stories. And welcome home, mon ami.

      Chris

      • 8 Snake

        Chris,
        I wasn’t in A’stan with Ash but in the same squadron (“le grand 2″). I don’t remember who “N” was at this time… Ash (or “H” as we usually called him but pronounced with French accent it’s “Ash”) qualified as a LRRP team leader in 2008.
        S

        • Ah, I thought the name “Ash” came from the “ach” in Hertach. He was under a different team leader in 2009, I will email you his name. Merci, Snake.

  3. 10 Canicheenrage

    Attributing an individual trait to millions of people says more about the people making the claim than the ones told about.
    Anyway, when i hear from us trolls that french are stereotypically cowards, i answer that’s the opinion of stereotypically stupid americans, and therefore not worth much.
    It’s even funnier if they try to come back with examples.
    Anyway,
    i was a little surprised when i read that it was still the vision of french troops in the us army.
    That the general population could enjoy, more or less seriously “lowering” people from elsewhere to feel superior, nothing new nor unusual; from hebrews and goys, greeks and meteques, indians who called themselves “human beings” thereby excluding others from the definition, to the home of the brave, or a country which name literaly means land of the free, everyone “lifts” themselves “up” and mocks “others”.

    But the us military, allies operating in combined operations, really believing this… Reminds me of ( a little bashing back :P, if i recall it well enough ) a passage in “le grand cirque” from Pierre Clostermann: US bomber waves over germany were harassed by german interceptors. When an unfortunate german fighter passed through the hundreds of fortresses-strong formations, dozens of gunners could shoot at it at the same time.
    Of course, once the fighter downed, nearly every gunner was claiming the kill, and all of them granted. Which led to fantasy numbers like 12k german planes downed by bombers, against 2k by fighters…Each month.
    Numbers that RAF fighter command considered excellent for civilian morale, but if themselves could be provided with reliable ones, it would be nice, thanks a lot.

    Anyway once again, congratulations for standing up to ignorance and a part of stupidity among your compatriots, after having risked your very skin in several remote parts of the world for the security of others. Praises are known for their ephemeral and immateriality traits, but i still wanted to give them.

    Wishing you good fortune for your writer “career” which, looking at your style, doesn’t seem to start badly,

    Good day, and bonne continuation !

    Ps: Hope the post up there is understandable. I wouldn’t call that a foregone conclusion, but it would be hard to progress sticking to “Tom is playing in the field with his dog Toby.”

    • Thank you for your comment, and I’m sorry it took me this long to respond. I know the French also have stereotypes about Americans, and I think I’ve heard all of them before. We’re fat, stupid, violent, act like the people on Jerry Springer, and so on. I think we do nothing for ourselves by blindly buying into these stereotypes.

      There’s no need to apologize for your English, I promise you it is much better than my French. I will begin a French class next week, hopefully I will be able to write in French soon.

      • 12 Canicheenrage

        I completely agree !
        And good luck and will for your French class. I’m currently trying to regain some of my German, as i find knowledge of other languages not just being a way to communicate, but also gain nuances, ways of presenting things or even to think !
        Hoping you’ll like it just as much,

        Cheers.

        Ps: You might be interested in reading the balanced “1940: Myth and reality”, by clive ponting ( the same historian who published about the falklands war). I find it more balanced than books about “the miracle of dunkirk”, or “the british betrayed us ! -style french books.

  4. 13 gokarna lamichhane

    i am nepalies from nepal. i want to join in france army help me

    • 14 Big'uns

      You have to go to France, and go to a french foreign center to test and recruit

      • 15 Big'uns

        Here
        Poste de recrutement et d’information de la Légion étrangère
        Quartier Viénot – Route departementale 2 – B.P. 11 354
        13 784 AUBAGNE CEDEX FRANCE
        TEL : (33) 04 42 18 12 57

  5. 16 gokarna lamichhane

    sir, i am nepalies from nepal.i am 20 years old.i want to join in france army.please do help me.for this i agree do any hard work, physically , etc. help me.help……………….

    • gokarna,

      I’m sorry, but I don’t know anything about how you can join the French Army from Nepal. I would think it would be easy to join the British Army.

      Can any Frenchmen help gokarna with his question?

      • 18 Patrick

        The only option for a foreigner to join the French armed forces is to join the Foreign Legion. This means travelling to France and show up at one of the recruiting posts. Easiest way is to go directly to Aubagne (near Marseille, South-East France) where the Legion HQ are located.
        More information, check the official Legion recruiting web site (www.legion-recrute.com) this (unofficial) forum dedicated to the Foreign Legion at http://www.cervens.net/legionbbs, to get some additional ‘insight’.

  6. 19 Pierre Freyburger

    Dear Chris,

    Thank you so much fort your article.
    We needed it, because I was getting tired to defend my brothers in arms on forums and discussion groups, against this stupid and unfair cliches…

    It´s a lack of respect towards the french soldiers who died there, and towards their families.

    Thank for keeping their honor.

    I am a french vet from Air Force commandos and I served in Kirghizistan in 2002 with US Air Force and Marines… I made many patrols with them.
    I keep great memories from this mission, we had great relations between us, and yes, of course we like your patches and guns… we grew up with your TV Shows and movies ;)

    For example, I started to smoke because of the movie “Platoon”. I thought they were so cool with their Marlboro pack on their helmets, and lighted with Zippo´s, hehe… (true)

    Anyway, keep posting great articles like that, and I salute you with respect.

    Cheers,

    Pierre F

  7. 20 maxime

    Bonjour , j’écris ce commentaire en Français car je ne parle pas Anglais …
    j’aimerai savoir si l’équipement Français et beaucoup moin bien que l’équipement Américain ?

    merci d’avance .

    • Maxime,

      I am sorry I don’t speak French very well, so I must answer in English. I think you are asking which is better, American or French equipment. Concerning individual weapons, I think American weapons were better. The FAMAS is a very old design that hasn’t been improved in a long time. Many French soldiers also complained about the 25 round magazines, which were designed to be used once and then discarded. Also, the French 7.62mm machine gun was thought of as being obsolete and unsafe. The American Beretta 92F is much better than the normal French issue pistol.

      Many French soldiers loved our M4 carbines, M14 marksman rifles and M240 machine guns.

      However, the French AMX-10RC is FANTASTIQUE pour le guerre en Afghanistan. I wish we had a light tank like it.

      • 22 Vincent S.

        Dear Chris,

        I think you are totally right about our individual armament in the Armée De Terre. The FAMAS F1 is old, but with a recent programm of the french army, it will replaced by the FAMAS G2 FELIN, with new and modern equipment (Thermal optics, new type of communication, …). You can check this on this link :
        Now more than 20 000 French Soldiers test this equipment for now, and before 2025, most Infantry Regiment would have this, but with the crisis … I don’t know if it’s possible. I hope I could help you, and thank you so much for this article !

        Vincent

        • 23 Vincent S.

          I forgot the link sorry

          This Programme FéLIN take part of the Programme Scorpion. the goal is to modernize the french army and FéLIN is the first way to finish this programm.

          • Vincent,

            The French Marines who talked to me about the Felin did not like the weapon. They hadn’t fired it, but just looking at pictures it seemed to be too bulky, heavy and easy to break. I’d like to hear from a soldier who has fired and carried one, and see what they think.

          • 25 Vincent S.

            Chris,

            I heard that too and I can understand it. My father, who left the army in 2008, told me that he is reluctant with FéLIN. It’s not perfect, sure, and it can’t be include in every services, but I think that if we learned to use it, FéLIN could be a terrifiant weapon, not only with the FAMAS, but all the equipment behind. As I said, FéLIN takes part in a great plan to modernize the French army. Actually, FéLIN is beeing test, but now we can use VBCI (in replacement of the VAB), the new transport plane A400M, the EC665 Tigre or the Rafale.

  8. 26 Emmanuel

    This article is sooo nice!
    You have my deepest gratitude for showing such respect to our (French) troops, they deserve it.
    I’ve read a few more pieces you wrote on this blog, which I enjoyed a lot, and that me me buy “Proof of our resolve” (hardback!) on Amazon tonight.
    I’m sure I’ll take an immense pleasure reading it.
    Take care and merci beaucoup.

    Emmanuel from France.

    • Emmanuel,

      I believe you are the first person to buy a Proof of Our Resolve hardcover on Amazon! Thank you and I hope to hear your thoughts on it. You take care as well, and I am happy you enjoyed what I’ve written about French troops. They do deserve more respect than they usually receive.

  9. 28 Walle Franck

    Chris,
    A “BIG THANKS” for your words.

    (The french sergeant behin the M14EBR on your photo)

    • Great to finally hear from you again, Franck! There is also a picture of you in my post, “Photos of French and American troops in Afghanistan.”

      • 30 Walle Franck

        When do you come to visit me in Haute – Savoie Chris. It will be a pleasure to have you and your family

        • Franck, I have been trying to find a way to visit France since I returned from Afghanistan. It is very difficult at the moment. If I go, my wife and three of my children will come with me. How much room do you have at your home? :)

  10. 32 Walle Franck

    3 rooms, but they are not very big. I can receive a couple and two children who will sleep in the same bed. It’s true, place is a big problem … Five guess, even if I sleep in the living-room it’s too much for my flat. We can fine a way if it’s possible to you to slept in an hotel.

  11. 33 Walle Franck

    Just a thing Chris, is that the NSA spies on us ?

  12. 34 Walle Franck

    In this case, you risk having problems

  13. 35 Isa

    Just to say thank you for writing about your good experience working alongside French soldiers. My husband is in the French cavalry. I really wish French people were as supportive of their armed forces as Americans are.

  14. 36 Tower

    I just found this blog by accident and I thought i’d let you know what I thought.

    Excellent! I really enjoyed and appreciated the sentiment. What you say about some soldiers of other countries having disparaging opinions of the French forces is true and sadly, over the years, i’ve noticed such comments mostly from US serviceman. Not all certainly but a fair proportion shall we say. The British used to but not so much in recent years, working alongside us in Afg’ may have helped along with the recent joint exercises.

    We’re definitely a more relaxed bunch around camp than those of the US. I, like you, did some time with other coalition forces, for my part I was with a US Marine detachment, it was different, not worse, just different. If you really wanted relaxed (but still professional) you should try the Australians. :)

    Again, thank you for a good, balanced and entertaining read. I’ll be visiting your blog again. ;)

    Tower, 2e REP.

    • Tower,

      Thanks for your comments. Unfortunately, you’re right that it is mostly Americans making stupid anti-French comments. However, there are now a lot of Americans who fought alongside the French, and are now fighting back against that stereotype. I think our attitudes are changing, especially since French troops are kicking ass so well in Africa.

      When and where were you in Afghanistan?

      • 38 Tower

        Hello again :)

        I was in Afg’ 2008 (Kapisa), 2010 (Surobi) and 2011 at an outpost in Belda with the ANA and Kabul.

        May & June of 2008 I was with 1/6 Marine (is that how you write it?) in Helmand. That was certainly entertaining.

        Africa is certainly keeping us busy, it will be interesting to see what UN support we receive in CAR or whether it becomes a French Army sinkhole. Us and our African ‘adventures’, at least it’s for a good (right?) reason this time. We’ve traditionally thought of C.Africa as our back yard, the Australians East Asia and the British N.Africa. USA thought of C.America in the same way for a while but now it seems more M.East… rather you than me. :D

  15. 39 Lapotre

    Hello I fell on your blog and I his(her,its) pleased really to see what you wrote on us saying that the prejudices fast became blurred.I use an on-line translator then I hope that you go to understand me.I was military in the French army in the armored weapon cavalry, certainly i did not make Afghanistan because i did not renew my contract in the army because in the period a girl turned the head of me.I just made two operations one in Kosovo and one in Ivory Coast for the operation unicorn. But after the terrible attacks of New York and the release of the war in Iraq,My regiment had been put on the alert to participate in the conflict, we had to leave with 40 tanks Leclerc without forgetting the other machines armored car and other logistics but me can tell you that we were to motivate to participate in this war in your side but it is not us who made the decisions but the politics, thus for me your fellow countrymen had no reason for hating us because we could nothing there and I few tell you that this situation profoundly hurt me just like to some of my fellow countrymen and for a while I became anti-American,not because I did not like the USA but it was because of this hatred that you had against us while we you nothing had hurt but afterward I had a change of mind and I said to myself that all the Americans are not stupid and that it is due to a minority,in the final with hindsight i am very satisfied not to have to participate in this conflict, but in a private personally it was necessary to concentrate the strengths on Afghanistan and to finish we had been routed by German due to the lack of equipment and by bad decisions, an example the Maginot line which in been very expensive while the government would have been able to invest in the new equipment, I think that if good one decisions had been taken at that time we would have been able to invert the course of events,but in spite of this we are far from being cowards otherwise as regards the french humor on the women the sex etc. etc. and which can be considered as of the sexual harassment in your country i few tell you that the women in my country do not deprive it to laugh it of us the men consider i ;-).I wish good luck to you for your career.

    Friendly

    • Lapotre,

      Je compronde most of your comment. Thank you for your service, et merci for not staying anti-American. :)

    • 41 Sylvain

      Je n’avais pas vu ce commentaire. Je me permets de répondre (en français. Je ferai la traduction en anglais pour Chris et les autres anglophones quand j’aurai plus de temps).

      Les mauvaises décisions qui ont entraîné la défaite de 1940 n’est absolument pas la construction de la ligne Maginot, bien au contraire.

      – La première mauvaise décision a été de ne pas prolonger la ligne Maginot jusqu’à la mer du nord comme le prévoyait le plan initial pour des raisons budgétaires. Et parce que nos grands stratèges pensaient que les allemands ne feraient pas 2 fois le coup de passer par la Belgique.

      La ligne Maginot est la partie du front qui a le mieux résisté à l’offensive allemande de mai 40. Elle ne s’est rendue qu’après l’armistice du 17 juin. A tel point que, fait rare, l’armée allemande a rendu les honneurs militaires aux soldats français qui défendaient ces forts lors de leur reddition.

      Si le plan initial avait été respecté, la France n’aurait pas été envahie.

      Ensuite l’équipement. L’équipement de l’armée française en mai 40 était aussi bon, voire meilleur, que celui de l’armée allemande. Faut pas oublier que l’armée française était considérée à l’époque comme la meilleure du monde.

      Ce qui nous amène aux 2 autres erreurs stratégiques qui ont été commises.

      – Tout d’abord de ne pas avoir attaqué l’Allemagne dès septembre 39. L’armée allemande de 1939 n’aurait jamais pu mener de front la guerre en Pologne à l’est et la guerre contre la France à l’ouest.

      Enfin plus précisément on a attaqué l’Allemagne début septembre. Les troupes ont rapidement progressé en territoire allemand puis ont reçu l’ordre de revenir à la frontière…

      – Ensuite nos stratèges étaient restés sur la guerre de tranchées de 14-18 quand les stratèges allemands avaient compris que la guerre moderne devait être une guerre de mouvement rapide basée sur les blindés.

      Là où nous on répartissait nos blindés (qui étaient aussi bons voire meilleurs que les blindés allemands) entre les régiments d’infanterie, les allemands eux les regroupaient dans des vrais régiments blindés.

      Voilà les 3 raisons de la défaite de 40.

      • 42 iranoutan

        People must know that today the french parliement make the Européen Union because french people believe that the german people win IIWW and that the germain people is best than other peoples.

      • 43 iranoutan

        Pour expliquer la défaite de 40, la France avait pour ainsi dire été émasculée par la disparition de ses élites militaires en 14-18 , et de ce fait sans sous-officiers on ne put pas gagner une guerre et lors de la campagne de France si les généraux et autres officiers supérieurs venaient à vouloir mettre le nez dehors , c’était pour y laisser leur peau , tellement les forces militaires adverses étaient supérieures à tout les points de vue. Maintenant , le fait d’aller ratonner chez l’habitant à Tombouctou ou contre Mohamed, moi , je n’appellerais pas ça une guerre .

        • 44 Sylvain

          L’armée allemande n’était en rien supérieure, sauf au niveau de la stratégie d’emploi de l’arme blindée. La facilité avec laquelle s’est déroulée la campagne de France les a eux-mêmes surpris.

          Si on avait poursuivi l’offensive de septembre 39, l’armée allemande se serait effondrée aussi vite que s’est effondrée l’armée française en mai-juin 40.

    • 45 Sylvain

      English translation of my French comment (I hope it will be published by the moderation):

      I hadn’t seen this comment.

      The bad decisions that led to the defeat of 1940 are absolutely not the construction of the Maginot Line,quite the contrary.

      – The first bad decision have been to not extend the Maginot line till the North Sea, as the initial plan planned it, for budgetary reasons. And because our great strategists thought that Germans would not do 2 times the blow to pass through Belgium.

      The Maginot Line is the part of the front that has best resisted the German offensive of May 40. It surrendered only after the armistice of June 17. To such a point that, rare fact, the German army returned the military honors to the French soldiers who defended these forts during their surrender.

      If the initial plan had been respected, France would not have been invaded.

      Then the equipment. The equipment of the French army in May 40 was as good or better than the German army. Remember that the French army was regarded at the time as the best in the world.

      This brings us to two other strategic mistakes that have been committed.

      – First of all, to not have attacked Germany from September 39. The German army of 1939 would never have been able to manage at once the war in Poland in the East and the war against France in the West.

      Finally more exactly we attacked Germany in early September. The troops progressed quickly on German territory then were ordered to return behind the border…

      – Then our strategists had stayed on the trench warfare of 14-18 when the German strategists had understood that the modern war had to be a fast war of movement based on tanks.

      When we distributed our tanks (which were as good or better than the German tanks) between the infantry regiments, the Germans regrouped them in real armored regiments.

      Here are the 3 reasons of the defeat of 1940.

      • 46 Sylvain

        A little correction: it’s June 17th of course

      • 47 Francis

        France has little to be ashamed of at it’s conduct in 1940. It made mistakes but it was in a terrible position.

        France was exhausted by it’s fighting from 14-18, its leaders traumatised and its demographics crippled. The Germans had a lot more people and a lot less internal problems.

        Also at that point there was no army like the Germans on the face of the world. Britain (I’m British) survived better only because it had water, and the world’s second most powerful navy, in the way of the Germans. The Russians continued to fight after the initial offensives basically because the Nazis loathed them so much they were unwilling to accept Soviet peace offers.

        British and American people should stop talking about how much braver they were than the French for 1940 unless they meet an enemy who can walk on water.

        • Francis,

          You’re right, and I don’t think it was WW2 that caused so much anti-France resentment as it was France’s political stances afterward.

  16. 49 lapotre

    I exaggerate when I said anti-American I would say more that at some point you had fallen in my respect but it was short-lived.Normally if the contract is signed i should come to your place in Texas in freeport to make an intervention the gas terminal of freeport maybe which with the fate I would cross you.In any case your Frenchglish is not bad ;)

  17. 51 Sylvain

    Hello

    I discovered your blog yesterday on a French site and it’s nice to read what you say about the French army. It’s unbearable to be treated of cowards who surrender everytime.

    France is the European country (and so surely in the world) which won the more battles in the military history. It’s not ONE defeat which erases our long history.

    And the 1940 French soldiers,of whom my grandfather was a member, weren’t cowards either. They fought as much they could. But, when the political power and the senior officers are failing, the soldiers can’t do much.

    And many French soldiers sacrificed themselves in front of Dunkirk to save the British troops which reembarked for England. It’s necessary to respect them.

    Thank you for your fight against this stupid stereotype.

    And sorry if there are mistakes, I also use an online translator :-)

    • Sylvain,

      France has a long and proud military history, and we Americans should know that. I’m happy to help tell the truth about the French Army.

      And no need to apologize for your English, it’s better than my French.

  18. History is best learned from someone that’s actually been there while it’s being made. Excellent work, Chris.

  19. 54 Jacopo

    Wow defending french army from stereotypes and bashing the italian one for paying the talibans??You are sad man,italian army nowadays is one of the best trained,brave and tachtical army you could find!

    they are not attacked cause they have the respect and the support of the local population…

    From your american arrogant view i don’t think you even know that the first Navy Seals were trained by italian COMSUBIN,maybe the best FS of the world(yeah reply me,next time i will add facts if you want) and they were born against the english(the famous “human torpedos” do some research)
    cause was the only way to avoid their radars…

    so yeah sure,one of the best trained,equipped(augusta,beretta,the best missilistics targeting systems,ariete,benelli and the “soldato futuro” stuff are italian),smart army is paying the talibans…You acted like the hero against the stereotypes and you say such a stupid thing,ask some american that really worked(like i did) with italians in the field and ask him if we “suck” that much…I agree about the french army(even if their thoughts about italian were sad too) that is a excellent army but you have to open both eyes,cause you just opened one extendind your stereotypes on others,not really mature…

    Sorry for the english,

    Jacopo

    • Jacopo,

      There is no need to apologize for your English, it is much better than my Italian. I did not explain this very well in my essay, but I don’t believe the Italian soldiers were paying the Taliban. However, I do believe the Italian government paid the Taliban. I have very little experience with the Italian Army, but I don’t doubt the soldiers themselves are brave and dedicated. I should have been clearer about that in my essay.

      And just to be perfectly clear, in my essay I did NOT say Italian soldiers “suck”.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, and for your service.

      Chris

      • 56 Jacopo

        Ok Chris,this changes a lot the meaning of your point of view and i’m not going to defend my government that i consider corrupted and useless,i was just on the soldiers side and i wish you to work with them some day so you’ll have your own opinion.

        I’m sorry if i misunderstood and from my government i could expect everything bad but not my soldiers…

        wish you the best,

        Jacopo

  20. 58 Vincent S.

    Dear Chris,

    Honnestly, this article made me cry. Finally, our work is recognized. I know that this article will not change the mind of american on french, but it’s a start. I’m only 17 years old, but at 20, I want to enlist with Parachutiste Marine Troops, as my father, he was in the 8è RPIMa. My father was in the patrol during the Uzbin Ambush in 2008. He survived, but his best friend, my Godfather, died. Since that event, I hate the Italian government. They knew that the Talibans were present in this valley.
    I want to enlist for my country, ans this article makes me proud of her.
    You’re the real heroes.
    I could never thank you enough,

    Vincent S.

    • Vincent,

      I’m happy you enjoyed the article, and please tell your father I thank him for his service and am sorry for the loss of his friend. I know how angry the French soldiers were about the Uzbin ambush, and I remember when the French government accused the Italian government of paying the Taliban. If that it true, and I think it is, it was a very cowardly thing to do. I don’t blame the Italian soldiers, but I do blame their government.

      Good luck with your future military career. French soldiers told me the paratroopers are the best soldiers in the French army. Be safe, be deadly, and make your father and your country proud.

      • 60 Vincent S.

        Chris,

        Like you, I don’t blame Italian soldiers, but what did the Italian government is horrible. But, regrattably, this is the past and we must go on. This ambush has raised several issues including the question of our presence in Afghanistan. We had to stay there because our mission weren’t finished and all the dead soldiers over there would have died in vain if we left.

        Thank you, I hope I will be a paratrooper as my father !
        Vive la France et vive les Etats-Unis !

  21. merci Chris pour votre Blog .

    je suis un ancien des Troupes de Marine ,j’ai servi 15 ans et j’ai fini avec le grade de caporal chef .

    j’ai participé à des opérations oui mission en ex Yougoslavie ,en Afrique Côte d’Ivoire (opération Licorne ) ,centre Afrique ,évacuation de ressortissants au Libéria ,Djibouti Guyane etc … .

    mon fils a rejoint à 17 et ans et demi les Troupes De Marine ,et il sert depuis 2 ans dans la même brigade ou moi même j’ai servi ,la 9°Brigade d’Infanterie de Marine (le 3°RIMa que vous avez connu en Afghanistan appartient à cette brigade ) .

    les unités de la 9°Brigade d’Infanterie de Marine ont participé aux dernières opérations au Mali et en Centre Afrique .

    mon fils parti en côte d’Ivoire ,est parti de se pays directement pour allé renforcé au Mali .il y est actuellement .

    son régiment (le RICM ) est équipé de l’AMX 10 RCR (mon fils a de multiple spécialité dont celle de pilote char ,un crazy pilote ) .

    avec mon fils on partage l’amour pour la France ,de servir les Troupes De Marine et d’être fier de notre région la Picardie (région du Nord de la France ) .

    tout comme vous aimez le Texas ,nous on aime notre Picardie .

    en se moment j’aimerais être avec mon fils au Mali ( soldat de Marine un jour ,soldat de Marine toujours )…

    mais comme mon fils me l’a dit :”papa ,tu as bien servi ,s’est à mon tour maintenant !”

    au Mali mon fils nous protège des islamistes ,donc ici en France je peux dormir tranquille .

    le french bashing fut une mauvaise chose ,et je suis heureux de voir qu’une personne comme vous ai décidez de changer sa .

    merci beaucoup à vous Chris !

    PS :je suis très intéressé par l’histoire de France et du Monde et j’ai un beaucoup d’intérêt pour l’USMC ,depuis sa création .
    j’ai lu beaucoup d’ouvrage relatant l’histoire de l’USMC .

    d’ailleurs mon fils s’est fait tatoué comme moi semper fidelis sur le bras ,car nous partageons la même idée et le même esprit que veut donné la devise des Marines ,toujours fidèle à l’esprit qui nous anime .
    l’amour de notre pays ,servir les Troupes De Marine et la fierté d’appartenir à une l’une des plus belle région de France .

    merci .

  22. 62 Muller

    Bonjour et merci Chris pour votre blog.

    Je souhaite m’adresser aux militaires français sur ce site, je suis une civile souhaitant soutenir nos troupes parties en OPEX aux quatre coins du monde.

    Pour ce faire, je pensais envoyer lettres et peut-être colis mais je ne sais pas par quel moyen l’envoyer et surtout à quelle adresse ?

    Peut-être pouvez vous me répondre ?

    Merci et bonne continuation à tous,

    C. Muller

  23. 63 eric

    Thank you…. Jokes and tirades apart, it takes only a few minutes for a warrior to recognize another…. Culture and origins differences do not apply on the battle field, a job needs to be done so lets do it. Losses will happen, when your time comes its no fault of anybody but the circumstances at hand so the rest has to pursue and finalize, which is the only way to justify the loss of a comrade :(
    You Americans have a fantastic way to define that bound…. ” Band of Brothers”
    Respects

    Salut :)


  1. 1 Maspik Teruzim | A Different Treadmill
  2. 2 Zone Militaire » Blog Archive Le coup de chapeau d'un militaire américain à ses homologues français - Zone Militaire
  3. 3 Bastille Sunday | WeaponsMan
  4. 4 Loose fishplate identified following French inter-city derailment – Railway Gazette | Accessories
  5. 5 Vivez Les Français | Western Rifle Shooters Association
  6. 6 French Mountain Commando Group. Airsoftscoop
  7. 7 Korbo Info » Collaborer avec l'armée française
  8. 8 Which nation has the best standard Infantry Soldiers(Individually)? - Page 6 - Historum - History Forums

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,343 other followers

%d bloggers like this: