On Saturday afternoon (24 June), France’s new minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, joined a foot patrol with a detachment of the 152nd Infantry Regiment based in Colmar, who arrived in Paris at the beginning of the month for two months to take part in Operation Sentinelle, following a four-month deployment to Mali for Operation Barkhane.
The military governor of Paris, General Bruno Le Ray, welcomed the minister in the street in front of one of the 75 rest places dotted around Paris for the Operation Sentinelle soldiers where he explained to her, with the help of a military map, how Sentinelle functions in Paris.
The soldiers work every day between around 6:30 am and 10:30 pm (wearing a bullet-proof vest weighing at least 12kg, whatever the weather) each working for two days followed by a day of rest. Military personnel participating in Operation Sentinelle have 250 days of activity per year, specific training for this deployment included. “The key is adapting to the life of the city” she was told. Therefore, Sentinelle will adapt, in conjunction with the police, if there are rallies, demonstrations, shows and other specific events but also according to the days of the week and the weather.
Before being deployed to Sentinelle, each soldier receives training that lasts between three weeks and a month during which he becomes familiar with the legal aspects (for e.g. when he can shoot in self-defence), learns the TIOR (close combat technique), which is a militarised form of martial arts, and trains in combat shooting.
The minister spoke privately to the soldiers in their rest area before accompanying a patrol in the André Citroën park in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, but this was not quite a patrol like any other because she was accompanied not only by Le Ray, but also by Colonel François-Régis Dabas, the corps commander, and several TV, radio and three print media journalists … including myself for FOB.
The patrol did not go unnoticed among the families who were enjoying the warm afternoon in the park. In the somewhat narrow garden aisles, the casually dressed minister and the patrol had to step aside to allow a stroller to get past. Children in swimsuits who were playing with water guns in the fountains came running to ask the soldiers what was going on and one of them, a boy of six or seven, very seriously marched at the back of the patrol for a few dozen metres, water-gun held properly, whispering to his small friends to stop bothering him because “I’m on patrol!”
Parly, who listened carefully to all the explanations and asked questions, told reporters that after taking office on Wednesday evening (June 21) she wanted to “understand what a Sentinelle patrol is.” She declared that she was “happy, proud” to serve as Minister of the Armed Forces and was “well aware of the weight and gravity of responsibility” that is hers. “I will take my job extremely to heart,” she said, adding with a smile that she would say no more because “I have to have time to familiarise myself with the portofolio.”