As you may recall, we recently ran part one of White Flags and Dropped Rifles: the real truth about the French Army, wherein Breach-Bang-Clear contributor Chris Hernandez wrote about his experience living, patrolling and fighting alongside French troops while embedded with Afghan forces. Part one discussed the French Army’s attitude toward alcohol and other matters. Here is part two, wherein Hernandez reflects on their stance on sexual harassment, reflective belts and other stoopid shit.
Sex and Reflective Belts
Many Americans have asked me, “Is it true the French served wine at dinner and had wine in their MREs?” The answer is yes and no. They not only served wine at dinner, they sometimes served it at lunch as well. The firebase I was on, which wasn’t that big, had three bars. The regular French Joes could have all the alcohol they wanted in their tents.
I went on a week-long mission to a combat outpost with a French recon platoon. The outpost was at the furthest edge of coalition control, surrounded by Taliban. One of their company XO’s, a captain, accompanied us. When we occupied the outpost, the first thing the troops did was pop open beers and break out steaks to grill.
I had a conversation with the French captain about stupid things that happen in the American military, like the sergeant major and captain in Iraq whose only apparent duty was screaming at troops in the DFAC for wearing paracord bracelets. I’ll never forget the captain standing there totally relaxed with a beer in hand, without armor or helmet, troops drinking and grilling behind him, telling me, “Things like that don’t happen in the French Army.”
So yes, the French could drink as long as it didn’t interfere with their duties. But alas, the French MREs I saw didn’t have wine rations. Sorry, guys.
Oh, and I don’t remember seeing even one French soldier wearing a reflective belt.
To readers currently in the military this is old news, but civilian readers may not appreciate the dramatic effect sexual harassment complaints have had on us. We’re constantly reminded of the punishment for committing sexual harassment, or not reporting it. Sexual harassment training and prevention classes are always being held. It’s a huge issue in the military.
Here’s an example: after my deployment I picked up an additional duty of preparing a weekly presentation for a group of stressed out, overly serious staff officers. The presentation was way too formal, so I began adding joke pictures to the final slide. The pictures were a hit. Then I tried to add this picture to one presentation:
I thought it was funny as hell. The officers I worked for, of course, deemed it far too offensive. I didn’t see why (and still don’t), but still had to remove it. I suppose the picture might offend female officers who used to be strippers or male officers who married strippers. Whatever the reason, this picture fell outside the boundaries of common decency. That’s the US military for you.
So, how might the French have felt about that picture, or about sexual harassment?
When my team began operations, the French had a going-away party for the outgoing team. Males and females, officer and enlisted mingled over French food and wine. Europeans are really into DJing, so a French officer played music videos with a laptop and projector. Some of those videos were from huge discos in Europe where people strip and have sex on stage; in effect, the French officer was playing techno porn videos on a big screen to female soldiers. I saw this happen on more than one occasion.
NOBODY CARED. There were no sexual harassment complaints, or threats of complaints. I never even heard of a sexual harassment incident among the French.
When the French Marines took over, I attended weekly briefings with their battalion commander. The battalion commander opened every brief with a joke, usually a picture. One female officer was on his staff. At the beginning of one briefing, the BC showed a series of pictures of naked women painted to look like animals. All the officers in the room, including the female, laughed at each one. Then the BC told the female, “So you don’t feel left out, here’s one for you,” and showed a picture of a naked man painted like an elephant. The female laughed in appreciation. In the US Army, the BC would have been relieved.
A French soldier in one of the line platoons had a girlfriend in Headquarters Company. His platoon shared a big tent that had been partitioned into individual cubicles. Every night he wasn’t in the field, his girlfriend stayed with him. Nobody up the chain of command said a word to him about it. As one French officer told me, “Our only rule about sex is, ‘be smart’”.
My French friends used to gently kid me about the “puritan mentality” of American society. They were right. The French seem to have gotten past that. They expect their soldiers not just to fight, but to enjoy life’s basic pleasures while they do it.
This was just part two of my ruminations (grunts: rumination) of my experience with the French Army. Stick around for Part III, wherein we’ll talk about COMBAT, and why the French don’t run.
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Wait until you see his upcoming fiction novel Line in the Valley – fighting between our troops against the Cartels in the near future. It’s going to be awesome. Read excerpts of that in his blog.
Chris Hernandez is a veteran of both the Marine Corps and the Army National Guard who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also a veteran police officer, having spent a long (and eye-opening) deployment as part of a UN police mission in Kosovo. Chris is the newest member of our team here and we’re damn glad to have him – he will occasionally be doing some guest ranting here as well as on his own page when he’s not working on the sequel to his novel Proof of Our Resolve. Read some of his other work in The Statesman and on his blog.
Mad Duo, Breach-Bang-CLEAR!