A campaign vehicle, a new Twitter account, a revamped website … the Foreign Legion’s operation “seduction” is in full swing. And it is now expanding 15,000 km away from mainland France by opening a recruitment office in French Polynesia in the hopes of creating vocations amongst the inhabitants of the 118 Polynesian islands and, above all, to attract more soldiers of French origin.
In fact, their numbers are dropping from year to year, accounting today for just 10% of the 9,000 Legionnaires. “Whereas we have 150 nationalities, we recruit only one French Legionnaire out of 10,” Major General Jean Maurin, current commander of the Legion, recently declared in an interview with daily Le Dauphiné. However, the Legion “needs as many French personnel as possible to maintain a balance with foreign populations,” Warrant Officer Alain Rifault of the Legion Recruiting Group said in April.
Maurin puts this decline in the numbers of Francophone personnel by the pulling power exercised by other “risky jobs”, such as the policeforce or firefighters. In addition to which, “the Foreign Legion is demanding and our compatriots are not used to being coerced,” he remarked.
The “combative attitude” of the Polynesians is not unrelated to this initiative, says Lieutenant-Colonel Doutey, in charge of the Foreign Legion Recruiting Group. “We feel that there is a real potential here. (…) It seems to us that these are candidates who will make excellent soldiers. We know their physical abilities, their ardour in battle,” he told daily La Dépêche de Tahiti.
It will also save time and money. So far, Polynesian candidates had to buy an airplane ticket for mainland France in order to undergo the selection tests. A significant and risky investment, given the level of difficulty of these tests that, on average, only one candidate out of eight passes.
They will now be able to carry out this pre-selection locally and then, if they are admitted, sign an initial five-year contract before flying to France, at the expense of the Army, for training. Note for interested parties: the new recruitment office is open Tuesdays and Thursdays on the Arue camp, headquarters of the Pacific-Polynesia Infantry Marine Regiment (RIMaP-P).
With 1,300 positions to be filled in 2017, the Legion’s primary objective remains recruitment. Launched in 2015, the Legion’s recruitment programme hopes to achieve a 30% rise in the numbers of personnel so that by 2018 it returns to the strength it had 20 years ago.