Since 1831, when it was founded, the French Foreign Legion has intrigued people around the world. The heroism and endurance of the legionaries has become synonymous. Surely all of us can learn some powerful motivational lessons from these men. This article is mainly based on a recent conversation with one of them.
About a week after posting my article on ‘Motivation in the Legion’ on my website, I was honored to receive an email from someone who has actually been a Legionnaire. I was also pleased to hear that you liked the article.
I was even more pleased to discover that it was none other than the sergeant. Glenn Ferguson, who played a major role in the Channel 4 television series about 12 volunteers who bravely or foolishly volunteered to undergo a month-long basic training in the North African desert in the style suffered by the vast majority. of legionaries.
We spoke later on the phone for about an hour about the show and Sgt. Glenn Ferguson’s own experiences in both the Legion and the US Army AIRBORNE Brigade Reconnaissance Team I learned a lot about what motivates the Legion and Legionaries.
Sergeant. Glenn Ferguson hails from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States, but currently lives in France with his French wife and seven children. He is still only 37 years old.
I asked him what had motivated him to join the Legion at the age of 19. He wasn’t sure what to do at the time and he was young and inexperienced (I think he said ‘stupid’)! He had heard the great stories of the Legion and had decided to do so.
When I asked him what motivated him after joining the Legion, he instantly replied, ‘Fear.’ I imagine it was not fear of the enemy, but fear of the savage methods used by the Legion to discipline the often rebellious foreigners who joined their ranks.
The higher ranks of the legion were allowed to hit the lower ranks that showed a bad attitude. Most other armies do not allow this. Higher ranks can also use some painful drills and punishments to get recruits ready to accept discipline.
Interestingly, Sgt. Glenn Ferguson noted that the men who spent most of their time in military prison for being rebellious and arrogant were British. However, he noted that not all the British in the Legion were bad and that he served with some great individuals that he would go to war with at any time.
One British member of the training staff was Corporal Richard Sutter, who had served in the Legion from 1990 to 1995.
At one point in the program, a volunteer challenged the corporal to do the drill he was demanding of them. Although I’m sure the corporal could have easily done the drill, he refused and pointed out that he had already paid his fees.
Seasoned legionaries have already been through hell once. No one has the right to ask them to do it again. Sergeant. Glenn Ferguson fully supported Corporal Richard Sutter in this view.
Another factor that motivated Sgt. Glenn Ferguson in the Legion was the fact that he hated to fail. All elite groups take enormous pride in the standards they achieve. They don’t want people who only have a half attitude to join them. A key saying the Sergeant emailed me was:
“If you didn’t get to be the best, stick with the other losers.”
Yesterday, I saw a British House Cavalry soldier being scolded for a poor level of participation. At first glance, his gleaming uniform looked incredible, but the officer was unwilling to accept what he considered a standard that disappointed the British Army.
The soldier corrected things for the rest of the day and spent more hours working hard to polish and clean.
Another of the Sergeant’s sayings fits this type of attitude.
“You are only as strong as your weakest link, so never lower the level of the team.”
Sergeant. Glenn Ferguson made sure the volunteers were motivated by sheer fear to do their best. He told them that if they weren’t motivated, he would do the work himself.
However, his goal was still to produce self-discipline. One of his favorite sayings is:
“Discipline is doing the right thing not only when you are being watched. It is also doing the right thing when no one is looking at you.”
At one point (and this was not shown on the TV show) Sgt. Glenn Ferguson pulled the volunteers out of their beds, blindfolded them, led them into the desert and left them there to find their way home.
This was not a punishment, but a powerful lesson in self-reliance and building self-confidence. The Sergeant had already taught the volunteers the skills necessary to navigate home.
He was also willing to help volunteers push their limits. Another of his sayings applies to this:
“If you are never shown that your limits can be exceeded, you will never know how far you can go.”
The limits of the volunteers certainly were pushed a lot, both physically and mentally. The hot desert air makes each long walk much, much tougher. Even when they were in the home fort, a volunteer took off part of his uniform to be cooler. He was forced to wear his entire wardrobe for hours to teach him not to repeat the offense.
Two volunteers were buried up to the head in the sand to teach them discipline. The punishment seemed severe, but Sergeant Glenn Ferguson explained that it was even more severe than it appeared.
The volunteers weren’t standing in a neck-deep hole; they were made to sit cross-legged in a sitting position in a shallow hole. This would have been much more painful. They were temporarily paralyzed when they were pulled out of the hole. One remembers the shelf in the Middle Ages!
In another incident, volunteers had to march into the desert without water. In today’s world, this is unthinkable. Everyone carries a bottle of water even in cold weather. But the Legion still has the attitudes of a different and much harsher world. To be fair, there were times when the medical staff told the volunteers to drink more water.
However, in this incident, the television crew asked Chef Sergeant Peter Hauser to give the volunteers water or they would die. Sergeant Chef gave a classic French Foreign Legion response: “No water; let them die. We march.”
The motivational methods of the French Foreign Legion may seem barbaric, but they produced results. They created a highly disciplined army of men and developed individuals who knew they could achieve and suffer far more than they ever thought possible. His limits had exceeded his expectations.
Sergeant. Glenn Ferguson believes so much in pushing your limits that he even trains his Alsatian to push his limits. He points out that most dogs sit in their gardens sniffing their bottoms and eating bones. Your Alsatian, however, is trained to jump higher and higher until he can jump a ten foot wall. Talk about high standards!
Since the television show was made, one of the volunteers has trained with the Sergeant at his home in France and now has plans to apply to join the SAS.
Several of the volunteers have gained confidence and trust in themselves and have changed their lives. The TV show tended to focus on those who dropped out of the show rather than those who accomplished great things.
Fear can be a great motivator. Pushing yourself far beyond your normal limits is a great motivator. The pride of belonging to an elite group of people who give 100% is also a great motivator.
Discipline motivates you to do the right thing, whether someone is watching you or not.
These are just a few of the motivational lessons the Legion can teach us.
My thanks to Sergeant Glenn Ferguson for giving me an hour of his time to see first-hand the kind of motivation that makes the French Foreign Legion a legend around the world.