Focus on France’s National Guard

National Guard? Reserve? What’s the difference? After a breakfast this morning with Major-General Gaëtan Poncelin de Raucourt, Secretary General of France’s National Guard, FOB can enlighten you, and this a few days before the force’s 1st anniversary. Officially created on 13 October 2016 it has the threefold objective of strengthening the armed forces, the national police and the gendarmerie; addressing the need expressed by youngsters to serve their country, particularly after the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris; and contributing to national cohesion and resilience.

In fact, there is no difference between “National Guard” and “Reserve”, simply the National Guard is the umbrella organisation over the Reserves of the Army, Air Force, Navy, the gendarmerie and the national police. The national guards or reservists, the terms are interchangeable in France, are fully integrated into the active, professional forces; they bear no distinctive signs and do not have a specific mission but take part in those attributed to the armed forces, the gendarmerie and the police.

Even though these civilians still refer to themselves as “reservists” today, Poncelin de Raucourt’s aim is that in a few years time they will consider themselves as “National Guards”. He explains: “The term ‘National Guard’ points to employment, whereas the term ‘reservist’ points to ​​non-employment: ‘I reserve something’ means that I put it to one side, that I don’t use it, and it is this idea of ​​’non-employment’ which prevailed in the public mind.”

Far from non-employment, each reservist will have served an average of 35 days of active duty in 2017, three more than in 2016. About 10% of the 69,349* men and women of the National Guard are employed every day, including about 1,000 on security missions. Among the latter a balance of one-third is maintained between the reservists of the armed forces, the gendarmerie and the national police.

The General’s goal is that there should be 85,000 reservists by the end of 2018 of which 9,250 would be employed every day.

The first decision that a future National Guard must take is to decide whether s/he wants to join the armed forces, the gendarmerie or the police. The National Guard website (which you can check out here) provides guidance according to the answers the candidate gives to a few simple questions. If s/he chooses one of the armed forces, s/he must then choose her/his regiment. After a rigorous, two-week training period s/he will then become a member of RO1 (operational commitment reserve), or join the civilian reserve of the police. All receive non-taxable remuneration linked to their mission: on average €1,815 net per year. But this can rise quickly. A retiree, for example, will receive €4,570 for 46 days of active reserve duty, a job seeker €3,080 for 47 days, a student €1,520 for 31 days and an employee €1,100 for 23 days.

Anyone with a military background dating back to less than five years is automatically registered with RO2. This pool contains 67,572 former soldiers and 26,289 former gendarmes.

General Gaëtan Poncelin de Raucourt (photo credit: Ministry of the Armed Forces)

Poncelin de Raucourt is pleased that the National Guard is “on a very strong momentum” and especially that “youngsters are enthusiastic.” According to him, “we have no recruitment difficulties because we have between 40 and 50 candidates a day, of whom more than a third are under 30 years old.” He also explains that the National Guard is being looked at with new eyes, not only by active soldiers “who realise they need the help” (the soldier who shot the terrorist at the St Charles railway station in Marseilles on 1 October was a National Guard), but also from companies “who before, saw only the constraints of having employees who were also reservists but who today see the advantages.”

Poncelin de Raucourt bases his argument on the results of an inquiry he commissioned from the consulting firm Goodwill-management on the “economic performance of the operational reservist of the armed forces and related formations with a view to its valorisation for the company, for the person concerned and for the employer.” This survey of 4,400 reservists between the ages of 20-65 (of whom 62% were salaried, 15% retired, 17% students and 6% job seekers) and 200 companies pointed out that “reservists improve company performance” because they are more productive and healthier (the average duration of sick leave requested by the employee-reservist is three days per year as against 18 days for the non-reservist employee!). If the cost to the company of the reservists’ absences for duty is estimated at €35m in 2016, profits generated by their better productivity (€94m) and savings due to their good health (€34 million) leave performance gains of €93m.

So, company managers, encourage your employees to become National Guards, it’s a win/win situation!

* Figures are as at 31 August 2017

Of these 69,349:

35,272 in the Army, Air Force and Navy

29 104 in the gendarmerie

4,973 in the police