Myths and Misconceptions of the French Foreign Legion: Separating Fact from Fiction

Eric Sof

Operator from French Foreign Legion during the deployment in Mali

The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army that was established in 1831. It is unique in that it is open to all foreign nationals who wish to serve in the French Armed Forces. However, the Legion was not France’s only foreign military formation when it was founded. Here are three lesser-known facts about the French Foreign Legion:

French citizenship

Troops serving in the French Foreign Legion come from 138 different countries but may eventually become French citizens. After serving honorably for at least three years, they can apply for citizenship. However, a faster path to citizenship is available to them: if they are wounded on the battlefield, they may become citizens through a provision called “Français par le sang versé” or “French by spilled blood.” The French government established this provision in 1999.

Pay and benefits

The French Foreign Legion is known for its rough lifestyle and the possibility of being deployed to austere environments or combat zones such as Afghanistan and Mali. Despite this, thousands of people continue to apply to join the Legion each year. Legionnaires can expect a starting pay of around $1450 per month for the first couple of years of service, which is lower than the pay received by the lowest-ranking soldiers in the US Army.

Member of the French Foreign Legion (Photo: Pinterest/FFL)

However, the Legion has a heavy drinking culture, which may appeal to some people. It is not clear if this culture of heavy drinking extends to combat zones or is only present during off-duty time.

Death rate

The French Foreign Legion and its members have often been viewed as expendable throughout the unit’s history. Despite the possibility of death in far-off locations, many foreigners continue to join the Legion in search of a new life and a sense of purpose. However, according to an article in Vanity Fair, sacrificing oneself for a noble cause has gradually become a virtue in and of itself within the Legion.

french foreign legion enlistment - RECRUITMENT
French Legionnaires marching on French Foreign Legion day (Photo: Pinterest)

An old Legionnaire told the magazine, “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, there is no significance to it in a thousand years. So f-k off with your worries about war.” It is worth noting that serving in the French Foreign Legion is about pride and honor rather than salary.

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