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Legionnaire Success Lessons
Founded in 1831, the French Foreign Legion now trains primarily in southern France, but their spiritual home and old training center is in the former colony of French North Africa. What makes them a legendary force then and now? What successes can we learn from it?
Twelve volunteers were recently chosen for four weeks of regiment-style basic training in the Western Sahara Desert.They are under the grim but experienced and inspiring management of three ex-legionnaires, Sergeant Cook Peter Hauser, Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and Corporal Richard Sutter
Their experiences were filmed on Channel 4 TV and can teach us a lot about motivation and success. I also spoke with Sergeant Glenn Ferguson and learned more about his and other legendary Legionnaires’ motivations.
He joined the Legion at the age of 19. At first his motive was fear of punishment, then pride. He hated losing, and he could feel the pride of the elite. One of his favorite quotes is:
“If you keep lowering the bar and letting in weaker elements, you’ll never be the best”
Throughout the show, three former Legionnaires seem keen to get some volunteers to ring the bell to signal their desire to leave the organization. They want to weed out the weaker elements. Legionnaires with low standards may kill their legionnaires.
Elite groups have no time for the weak or half-hearted. They only want members who are willing to give 100%. They’d rather the “losers” (the lazy and half-hearted) not join. Another quote from Sergeant Glenn Ferguson puts it well:
“If you’re not being the best, hang out with other losers”
In the modern world where everyone has to be encouraged to join everything, this may seem very corny and elitist, but be aware that this statement actually makes sense even today. That’s not to say you have to be the best before joining.
You have to just want to be the best. This leaves room for less talented individuals as long as they have the right attitude. Any weakness leaves them quickly as they endure the pain of the Legion’s grueling training regime.
As the sergeant said to his suffering protégé on the TV show:
“Pain is the weakness that leaves your body”
Several volunteers were “weak” at the beginning of the training, but eventually became “strong”. One veteran commented on the show that when he entered the regiment, he didn’t think he could do anything. When he left five years later, he believed he could do anything. This belief is a key factor in any success.
I have been a teacher in London comprehensive schools for over 30 years. Everyone is admitted to these schools, whether they are “weak” or “strong”. They all have opportunities to learn. Unfortunately, a few people are not only “weak”, but “weak”. They don’t want to become “strong”, or they are too lazy to become “strong”, and they don’t want others to become “strong”.
When these lazy and disruptive students leave school, others will improve faster and even enjoy their education. The attitude of the French Foreign Legion towards half-hearted and destructive behavior may improve our combined system.
Occasionally, there will be “losers” in my martial arts classes; they don’t want to work hard, and they distract everyone else except for the parts they enjoy. I don’t care about their ability or lack thereof. The key factor is their attitude. Fortunately, the government did not force me to keep these students. I can either let them go or give them a chance to improve.
I usually give them a chance, but if their attitude doesn’t improve, I’m glad they leave. I don’t want most of the sharp-minded students in the class to lose the opportunity to concentrate and make rapid progress. Training with like-minded people is the fastest path to success for any business.
The French Foreign Legion usually doesn’t give lazy people a second chance. They are immediately alerted, or quickly disciplined into accepting the rules.
I was very impressed with the “aperitif” of the French Foreign Legion. This takes the form of 10 pull-ups before dinner. Volunteers find this hard, as do most of us.
sergeant. Glenn Ferguson explained that this “aperitif” is important in battle. It’s no use being able to walk for miles and then not being able to pull yourself up a wall when you get to a fight. Upper body strength is essential for military personnel. A favorite quote from The Sgt illustrates the point:
A person who cannot pull their own weight is wasting oxygen
I especially like the “Aperitif” exercise because it needs to be done at a precise time each day. Any sustained daily effort will yield impressive results. It’s also a good idea to practice before a meal or reward. Having a reward immediately after taking some action makes it easier to perform that action. Daily effort is a key ingredient in any success story.
Sergeant Major Peter Hauser, who has served with the regiment’s elite parachute regiments around the world, teaches the regiment’s weapons and tactics to volunteers.
The area where the volunteers are located (in the Western Sahara) is similar to the area where the Legion was the last line of defense when the French colonial empire collapsed in the 60s.
Simon Murray was a Legionnaire from 1960 to 1965. He described the vast amount of equipment that legionnaires had to carry:
“It’s a tough life because you’re carrying six days’ rations. You’re probably carrying around 40kg, you’ve got four grenades; you’ve got 200 rounds; you’ve got a sten gun; you’ve got water bottles ; you have a shovel, you have sleeping bags and half a tent. You have a lot of weight, and you often have to climb mountains, and it is a long long long long way. Soldiers often completely finish and fall; then Sgt. would kick them and push them forward and start screaming at them. You could have a fever; you could be this way or that. No one cared.”
The ruthless attitude of the sergeants allows no excuses, and excuses are the main reason why any venture fails. Sergeants like Sgt. Glenn Ferguson believe in pushing people beyond their limits. Most success stories contain elements of pushing boundaries and pushing limits. The sergeant’s favorite quote is:
“If you’re never proven to push your limits, you’ll never know how far you can go.”
Towards the end of the four weeks, the volunteers had to run a standard legionnaire’s 8km run in 60 minutes wearing ill-fitting 12kg backpacks. After an overnight watch, they had to walk for two hours before they could start running. Will, one of the volunteers, had a very sore ankle, but with the help of Corporal Rattle, he made it.
“You can do it – one small step. One ahead of the other. Come on Will – one last effort – you can do it. Come on; one last effort; you can do it; come on. Come on Come on! Grit your teeth! Here you come!”
Will made it with just ten seconds left. He credits his success to the help of Corporal Root, but the Corporal credits it to him. “If you look deep into yourself, you can do it — it’s a mind thing — it’s all in your head.”
Again, this attitude and the encouragement that comes with it leads to success and achievement. I think taking small steps in anything is an important ingredient in achieving success.
The main reason why legionnaires drop out of school is because of foot problems caused by frequent long marches and running. Why do some people move on while others quit?
Bobby, one of the four remaining volunteers, gave a reason:
“Positive people still seem to be here. It goes to show that a smile and a good nature can get you through most things.”
On their final day, four successful volunteers face the kepi parade. The night before the parade, they were told of Cameron’s heroism. During the Franco-Mexico War of 1863, the Legion retreated to a farmhouse called Camerone, where they were surrounded by 2,000 Mexican soldiers.
When the Legionnaires fought to the last three soldiers without surrendering, Captain Mexico let the three surviving soldiers leave with their weapons and their wounded comrades. He said:
“What can we do with someone like you? You have shown such courage.” This kind of teamwork is exactly what the volunteers needed at the Kepi March.
Will likened the Kepi parade to childbirth. “It was very painful, but then you forget about all the pain and think it’s a good idea to do it again or do it again.”
An Irish war veteran who appeared briefly on the TV show commented that the Kepi march was difficult, but that is what it was. “If it wasn’t hard, you wouldn’t be there. The blisters come out, and then the blood comes out.”
Sergeant Glenn Ferguson described the real march across the Pyrenees: “180km in 3 and a half days; 18 hours a day. You walk on these bloody stumps that used to be your feet. You know their The road sucks because you can feel it (Sargeant’s description is more colorful) but you keep going and after about ten minutes your brain stops working and you keep going. Eventually your boots have to be cut off- A lot of blood and a lot of skin.”
Eventually, all three crew members and the four remaining volunteers, Bear, Bobby, Will, and Loic, completed the march and reached the Atlantic Ocean. Loic loved the symbolism of crossing the desert and landing in the sea. Everyone stormed into the Atlantic to celebrate.
All four later got kepi blanc as a souvenir. They are not allowed to wear it, but can keep it to remember their experience. Only true legionnaires can wear Kepi blanc
Loic learned that when it came down to it, he could live a very simple life in a crappy bed, in a cold shower, and that the material problems that plagued us meant absolutely nothing.
Bear, the leader of the volunteers, commented:
“We don’t find the romantic myth of Beau Geste and the Legion. We find only the pain, but from the pain comes pride and honor. Whatever you say about the Legion, you have to realize that for those who lived through it , it’s a huge sense of pride. The strength of the Legion is that it gives people family and pride and a second chance. It builds good things through hardship.”
The following important success lessons can be learned from this account:
Surround yourself with people who are passionate, hardworking, and want to be the best. Drive out lazy and half-hearted people.
Take action every day to make yourself stronger in every way.
beyond the limits of your imagination
Keep smiling and be kind.
Embrace pain and hardship as a path to strength
remember past achievements of oneself or others
Encourage each other to take small steps when necessary to achieve your goals
don’t be obsessed with making excuses
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