June 10, 2010:
The French Foreign Legion, has built up a goodly number of myths during its nearly 180 year history. From the deserts of Morocco to the jungles of Vietnam, the Legion has a well-deserved reputation for extraordinary bravery and fighting ability in the worst of battlefield conditions. Endurance in the face of deprivation has become a quality for which the Legion is legendary. During the 1950s Battle of Dien Bien Phu in Indochina (Vietnam), Legionnaires fought on despite their officers and NCOs all being killed or wounded. The Foreign Legion is quick to point out that its reputation of bravery, courage, and dogged determination is no exaggeration. Furthermore, the Legion likes to portray itself as one of the world's most elite, professional fighting forces, much like the British SAS or the American Special Forces Groups.
Unfortunately for the Legion, other, less savory myths about life in the Foreign Legion are all too often very true, and are beginning to have a major affect on manpower retention, morale, and professionalism. The Legion has a lot of dirty laundry that almost never gets exposed due to the unit's notoriously secretive nature. For one thing, desertion is, and always has been, rampant in the Foreign Legion. As far as modern, 21st century armies are concerned, the Legion has some of the worst desertion rates in the world. This is the reason why small arms and light weapons are ALWAYS kept under lock and key under the watch of armed guards 24/7 when they are not being used at the range, training, or combat. French Army authorities know that, given the high rates of desertion, it's too much to risk having renegade soldiers running around the French countryside with loaded assault rifles.
Furthermore, substance abuse, particularly alcoholism, is even more of a problem in the Legion than in other armies. It is not hard to see why, considering that the Legion has often sent its men to isolated duty stations in some of the most inhospitable and violent regions on earth. Finally, unlike the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, or British Army, corporal punishment (e.g., punching) is still very much alive and in practice in the Legion, and often comes in the form of sometimes savage beatings administered by NCOs as a means of instilling "discipline". The Legion's notorious military police section possesses an even more sinister reputation for brutality and mistreatment. Much of this abuse is directed towards captured deserters and the grim reputation of Legion stockades is well-deserved indeed. Many recruits often complain that some of the instructors are racist and fellow recruits often of an unsavory type, despite the Legion's claim to conduct background checks on potential recruits.