Since 1831, when it was founded, the French Foreign Legion has intrigued people all around the world. The heroism and endurance of the legionnaires has become a byword. Surely all of us can learn some powerful motivational lessons from these men. This article is based mainly on a recent conversation with one of them
A week or so after posting my article on ‘Motivation In The Legion’ on my website, I was honoured to receive an email from someone who has actually been a legionnaire. I was also pleased to find out that he liked the article.
I was even more pleased to discover that he was none other than Sgt. Glenn Ferguson who played a major role in the Channel 4 TV series about 12 volunteers who bravely or foolishly volunteered to undergo a month's basic training in the North African desert in the style suffered by the great majority of legionnaires.
We talked later on the phone for about an hour about the program and Sgt. Glenn Ferguson's own experiences both in the Legion and in the US army AIRBORNE Brigade Recon Team. I learned a lot about what motivates the Legion and the Legionnaires.
Sgt. Glenn Ferguson comes from Atlanta, Georgia in the USA but currently lives in France with his French wife and seven children. He is still only 37.
I asked him what had motivated him to join the Legion at the age of 19. He was not sure what to do at the time and was young and inexperienced (I think he said ‘stupid')! He had heard the great stories of the Legion and had decided to go for it.
When I asked him what motivated him after he had joined the Legion, he replied instantly: ‘Fear’. I imagine that 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.
Higher ranks in the legion were allowed to beat up lower ranks who showed a bad attitude. Most other armies do not allow this. The higher ranks can also use some painful drills and punishments in order to make recruits ready to accept discipline.
Interestingly, Sgt. Glenn Ferguson noticed that the men who spent most time in military prison for having a rebellious and arrogant attitude were British. However, he pointed out that not all the Brits in the Legion were bad and that he served with some great individuals who he would go to war with any time.
One British member of the training staff was Corporal Richard Sutter who had been 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 that they do. Although I am sure the Corporal could easily have done the drill, he refused and pointed out that he had already paid his dues.
Experienced legionnaires have already been through hell once. No one has the right to ask them to go through it again. Sgt. Glenn Ferguson totally 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 have a huge pride in the standards they achieve. They do not want people who only have a half hearted attitude to join them. A key saying that the Sergeant sent me by email was:
"If you didn’t come to be the best then stay with the other losers. "
Yesterday, I watched a trooper in the British Household cavalry being told off for a poor standard of turn out. At first glance, his gleaming uniform looked amazing but the officer was not willing to accept what he considered to be a standard which let down the British army.
The trooper put things right during the rest of the day by spending hours more working hard on polishing and cleaning. Another of the Sergeant's sayings fits this kind of attitude.
"You're only as strong as your weakest link, so never lower the standard of the team. "
Sgt. Glenn Ferguson made sure that the volunteers were motivated by pure fear to do their very best. He told them that if they did not motivate themselves, he would do the job himself.
However, his aim was still to produce self-discipline. One of his favourite 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 watching. "
At one point (and this was not shown in the TV program) Sgt. Glenn Ferguson got the volunteers out of their beds, blindfolded them, took them out into the desert and left them there to find their own way home!
This was not a punishment but a powerful lesson in self-sufficiency and building self-confidence. The Sergeant had already taught the volunteers the necessary skills to navigate their way home.
He was also keen to help the volunteers push their limits. Another of his sayings applies to this:
"If you never are shown that your limits can be pushed, you will never know how far you can really go. "
The limits of the volunteers were certainly pushed hard both physically and mentally. The hot desert air makes every long march much, much tougher. Even when they were in the home fort, one volunteer removed part of his uniform to be cooler. He was forced to wear his entire wardrobe for hours to teach him not to repeat the offence.
Two volunteers were buried up to their heads in the sand to teach them discipline. The punishment looked severe but Sgt Glenn Ferguson explained that it was even more severe than it looked.
The volunteers were not standing in a deep hole up to their necks; they were made to sit cross legged in a sitting position in a shallower hole. This would have been far more painful. They were temporarily paralysed when they were pulled out of the hole. One is reminded of the rack in the middle ages!
In another incident, the volunteers had to march out into the desert without water. In today's world, this is unthinkable. Everyone carries a water bottle even in cool climates. But the Legion still has the attitudes of a different and far tougher world. To be fair, there were times when the volunteers were told by the medical staff that they must drink more water.
However, in this incident, the TV crew asked the Sergeant Chef Peter Hauser, to give the volunteers water or they would die. The Sergeant Chef gave a classic French Foreign Legion reply: “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 they developed individuals who knew that they could achieve and suffer far more than they believed possible. They had had their limits pushed way beyond their expectations.
Sgt. 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 behinds and eating bones. His alsatian, however, is trained to jump higher and higher until he can jump over a ten foot wall! Talk about high standards!
Since the TV program 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 self-belief and had their lives turned around. The TV program tended to focus on those who dropped out of the program rather than those who achieved great things.
Fear can be a great motivator. Pushing yourself way beyond your normal limits is a great motivator. Pride in belonging to an elite group of people who give 100% is also a great motivator. Discipline motivates you to do what is right whether someone is watching you or not.
These are just some of the motivational lessons the Legion can teach us.
My thanks to Sergeant Glenn Ferguson for giving me an hour of his time to learn first hand about the kind of motivation that makes the French Foreign Legion a legend all around the world.
John Watson is an award winning teacher and fifth degree black belt martial arts instructor. He has recently written several books about achieving your goals and dreams.
They can be found on his website http://www.motivationtoday.com along with a motivational message and books by other authors
Ezine editors / Site owners
Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety in your ezine or on your site but please include the resource box above.