It's Earth's version of taking the Black and heading for the Wall, the way Jon Snow does in Game of Thrones. Joining the French Foreign Legion granted men a safe haven for many for decades. But what does it actually take to join the French Foreign Legion?
Joining the Legion
The Foreign Legion, unfortunately, is portrayed in pop culture as packed mercenaries and vagrants — even Jean-Claude Van Damme takes up the cause in one film.
A safe haven for men looking for a new start in life for two centuries, the French Foreign Legion continues to take in soldiers with a variety of backgrounds from all across the world. A little over 7,000 soldiers strong, the organization is currently dispatched in multinational military engagements as well as patrols in French-controlled territories.
You begin the process of joining the French Foreign Legion by stopping in at a recruiting center and passing a series of psychological and physical examinations. These centers, however, are only in mainland France, making for an expensive proposition for those overseas and looking to join.
Historically, the French Foreign Legion required new recruits to take on a new name for the first year of service. At the end of the first year, the member can take back their birth name or continue on under the pseudonym. Members sign an initial five-year contract, with the intention of earning French citizenship along the way.
Along with a their new name, the legionnaires receive a single item — a rifle — which is not to be left on the battlefield under any circumstance. To many within the Legion, this is a symbol of a primary tenet of their culture. Death in battle is far better than surrender.
Contrary to popular belief, the French Foreign Legion doesn't open its arms to murderers and escaped felons. It actually requires an extensive background check before a recruit is allowed to join. Members can begin the course to obtaining French citizenship after three years of service, but citizenship can be gained quicker in a grisly manner, by shedding blood in battle.
At then end of their initial five-year contract, legionnaires often continue on as a career soldier, with the armies of Australia, New Zealand, and Great Britain often taking on off-contract legionnaires, or rising in the ranks of the Legion.
Who joins the French Foreign Legion?
The numbers of the French Foreign Legion have historically swollen in response to population disruptions. A large number of individuals with Polish and Jewish heritage joined in the early days of World War II, while former members of the German army found the French Foreign Legion at the conclusion of the war.
Today, the Legion is primarily made of men (no women are allowed to join) who are looking to change the trajectory of their lives drastically. Members are currently dispatched in Afghanistan and South America.
Modern legionnaires earn a stipend of roughly $1400 a month, in addition to food and lodging — compensation on par with low-level members of the U.S. Military. All Legionnaires must communicate in French, which can pose a problem for some new recruits.
If you are looking for a major change (tired of being tied to a keyboard?), you can read a number of dedicated message boards on the subject of life in the Legion. Or check out the French Foreign Legion's site itself at Legion-recrute.com. It's "une nouvelle chance pour une nouvelle vie."
Top image via archangel12/Flickr, showing members of the French Foreign Legion paying respects at the Pointe du Hoc memorial.