They keep coming and coming. And coming. Newbies newbies everywhere, great wide eyes and skin-tight hair. Having spent the last fourteen months or so as a rather streamlined version of a combat company, there's something rather bizarre about thirty brand new legionnaires descending on our tidy barracks like lean, naive locusts stumbling around a corn field, afraid to take a bite. That's not to say the company's been lacking in bark. But that's mainly radiated from the NCOs relishing the opportunity to rediscover their nasty sides. We "veterans" have long since become immune.
Thrice-daily assemblies to practice our company and regimental songs, the traditional (but lately somewhat neglected) pre-lunch "apéritif" has been re-introduced with a vengeance (a Legion "apéro" consists of pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and rope climbing in our combat fatigues just before going to eat), and of course, "grattage" , or scrubbing. Walls, floors, ceilings, doors, stairs, radiators, showers and the timeless toilet. I can't ever remember it having been as bad when I arrived, but then I arrived during a period of continual integration of young legionnaires into the company. Every fortnight spelled a new single-figure batch of newbies arriving into our building, being assigned rooms and gradually becoming a part of the furniture. This latest onslaught is quite unprecedented for many here, and so the reactions have taken many forms, but always in the extreme.
Small areas of nothing have been treated to pretty little stone borders, painstakingly stacked stone by stone under a scorching sun. The same merciless rays screeched down from on high as our new additions squatted down to unearth swathe after murderous swathe of prickly thistles and weeds from our gravel-dappled parade square. The suffering encounters few disruptions. Some of us younger "older" legionnaires feel slightly voyeuristic as we relaxedly shine our boots before assembly, the newbies submerging theirs in buckets and puddles of murky mop water in a desperate bid to finish their perennial corvée before the whistle blows and the weed-free parade square fills with neat lines and rows of shiny boots (well, most of them, anyway).
A strange incident did occur with one new legionnaire in particular. Of French origin, he had spent a mere eight months in the Legion before deciding he wanted to leave. Using a fictitious sick mother as an excuse, he demanded to have his contract terminated. Traditionally, ailing relatives or not, such requests would be greeted with two weeks in jail, a barrage of bestial treatment and never-ending administrative procrastination followed by an eventual offer of either overseas tours or a variety of training courses to appease the potential runaway. This time, the legionnaire in question had to wait a grand total of three weeks, at the end of which he was given written confirmation of his terminated contract before being sent on his way. Simple as that. In fact, nobody here could quite believe the overwhelmingly vulgar simplicity of it all.
And then the rumours slowly trickled out. Rumours of a chronic over-subscription within the ranks of our beloved legion. Rumours of a near-immediate requirement to quell numbers within our family by five hundred. Some went so far as to suggest that the Legion needs to be reduced to a corps of roughly five thousand. Current statistics put the Legion's manpower just shy of eight thousand. That's a three-thousand-man-trim. Indeed, the recent upheaval of the 13DBLE from Djibouti to the United Arab Emirates has itself spawned rumors of a once powerful and historic regiment of some six hundred permanent soldiers being culled to a measly sixty five. Let's not forget, though, that these are all just rumours….. for now.
Of course all this means that we "could" be looking at one of the last gigantic influxes of "newbies" to befall us before the landscape changes so drastically as to render it completely unrecognisable from the "real" Legion of old. If this is indeed to be the last great surge of fresh meat, well we might as well make the most of it.
Sorry lads, think you missed a spot there.