The French Foreign Legion (French: Légion étrangère), also known as FFL among the westerners, is a military service branch of the French Army established in 1831. The Legion is unique in that it was, and continues to be, open to all foreign recruits willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. However, when it was founded, the French Foreign Legion was not unique; other foreign formations existed at the time in France.
Here are 3 extraordinary facts you probably never heard about.
Legionnaires who are wounded are granted automatic French citizenship
Though troops serving the Legion hail from 138 different countries, they can become French citizens eventually. After serving at least three years honorably, they can apply to be citizens.
But they also have a much quicker path: If they are wounded on the battlefield, they can become citizens through a provision called “Français par le sang versé” (“French by spilled blood”), according to The Telegraph.
The French government allowed this automatic citizenship provision in 1999.
The pay is terrible, and so are the benefits
Legion recruiters could easily steal the infamous U.S. Marine Corps recruiting poster with the slogan, “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” The pay in French Foreign Legion is terrible, as are the benefits, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the promise of a very rough life and the possibility of being sent to fight anywhere, thousands continue to show up each year.
Legionnaires can expect deployments to austere environments and/or see plenty of combat. The Legion is currently in Afghanistan and Mali, for example.
Their starting pay is roughly $1450 per month for at least the first couple of years in. That’s a pretty small paycheck compared to the lowest-ranking U.S. Army soldier making $1546, which is guaranteed to go up to $1733 after being automatically promoted six months later (if they don’t get in trouble of course).
There is at least one bonus to the Legion if you fancy yourself a drinker: There’s plenty of booze. Even in a combat zone, legionnaires are drinking in their off time, and their culture of heavy drinking would make any frat-boy blush.
More than 35,000 foreigners have been killed in action while serving with the Legion
Throughout its history, the French Foreign Legion — and the fighters who make up its ranks — were seen as expendable. The foreigners who continue to join do so accepting the possibility of their death in a far-off place, in exchange for a new life with some sense of purpose. But meaningless sacrifice has gradually become a virtue in itself, according to a Vanity Fair article about the Legion.
“It’s like this,” an old legionnaire told William Langeweische of Vanity Fair. “There is no point in trying to understand. Time is unimportant. We are dust from the stars. We are nothing at all. Whether you die at age 15 or 79, in a thousand years there is no significance to it. So f-k off with your worries about war.”
Just to remember, serving at the French Foreign Legion was always about pride and honor and not about the salary.