Are mercenaries bad people

French Foreign LegionThe hardest Military unit the world

The French Foreign Legion is considered to be one of the toughest military units in the world. Although it does not have the best reputation and the assignments are often very dangerous, it attracts thousands of applicants year after year. Our reporter Gerwald Herter visited the headquarters of the elite unit in Aubagne, France, and spoke to the legionnaires.

The French Foreign Legion has been around for almost 200 years. Today mercenaries from more than 140 nations serve there. They risk their lives for a foreign fatherland - traditionally, the elite unit of the French army is often deployed where it is most dangerous: in Bosnia or Afghanistan, for example, currently also in Mali in the fight against terrorism. But they are also active in counter-terrorism in France, which has already caused massive criticism in the past.

Fighting for a foreign land

The Foreign Legion currently has around 9,000 legionnaires, reports Deutschlandfunk-Nova reporter Gerwald Herter. Around 40 percent come from Southeastern or Eastern Europe, but currently many men from Nepal or Brazil are also applying. The Legion has about eight times more applicants than vacancies, he knows. This year the unit plans to hire 1,500 soldiers

"Obeying orders comes first."
Non-commissioned officer of the Foreign Legion (anonymous for security reasons)

Basically anyone who can do five pull-ups and master an extremely tough running test can apply - previous military experience is often and an advantage, but not a mandatory requirement. Just like a school leaving certificate or a professional qualification. One of the sergeants told our reporter that it was very important to obey: "We have to do our job. That requires extreme sacrifices," and personal opinion must have no place.

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In theory, women can also apply to the Foreign Legion. But that hardly happens in practice. Our reporter rarely saw women at headquarters. If so, then it is specialists, such as medics, who come via the French army, to which the Foreign Legion belongs.

Motive for legionaries: secure existence and a new beginning

A motivation for most applicants is the financial security that service in the Foreign Legion provides. With a starting salary of EUR 1,300 plus allowances, for example for foreign assignments, pay is attractive to many. In addition, some are hoping for a fresh start, reports Gerwald. Because if you sign up for five years, you have a chance of getting a French passport afterwards - but no guarantee. And: Anyone who is taken is given a new name and is, at least in the first year, protected from inquiries from the authorities.

This is exactly what has promoted the bad reputation of the unit: The possibility of changing one's identity also attracts people who need exactly that - because they have committed a crime. In the past, serious criminals were part of the unit, after the Second World War, for example, also many former members of the German and French Waffen-SS.

"The Legion does not take seriously criminal people who have been involved with drugs or murder and manslaughter. But it does not disclose the exact criteria."
Gerwald Herter, Deutschlandfunk Nova reporter

Today that should no longer be the case. The applicants are also examined by the secret service in the first year, explains Gerwald. However, the exact criteria are not open, he adds, and minor offenses may not be an obstacle. And when the Foreign Legion is really open to him during his visit to the headquarters in Aubagne - when he addresses the Waffen-SS and also war crimes of the Legion in the past, an officer complains about him and he is confronted . Obviously such questions are not welcomed by the Foreign Legion after all.

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