Veterans of the Foreign Legion participated, for the first time, in the ceremony of the National Day of Romania. Bogdan Gârbovan, president of the Romanian Foreign Legion Association, dismantles for “The Truth” the legends woven around the most famous elite military body in the world.
Bogdan Gârbovan (third from left to right) with colleagues from ALEE Romania at the National Day.
Veterans of the most famous elite military corps in the world, gathered in the Romanian Foreign Legion Association (AALE Romania – Association des Anciens de la Légion Étrangère), participated, for the first time, in the ceremony of the National Day of Romania, on December 1, 2022, at Câmpia Turzii, the Transylvanian town where the 71st Air Base is located.
One of the two legionnaires in veterans’ parade costumes and with green berets who laid the crown at Troiţa Eroilor Neamului is the president of AALE Romania, Bogdan Gârbovan (46 years old). Short-cut, military, he is tall and has the build of a performance athlete. The image of a soldier who spent almost half his life in the most feared elite military corps in the world fades if you get to exchange a few words with him. He is relaxed, smiles often and speaks in a friendly manner without being overbearing.
“Even if some of us did not serve in the Romanian Army, we are Romanians”
He engaged in Foreign Legion (LS) in 1997 and retired after more than 20 years. Bogdan and his colleagues participated, for the first time, on December 1, 2022, at Romania’s National Day, at the invitation of the mayor of Câmpia Turzii, Dorin Lojigan. He says they will still attend if they are invited: “Even if some of us did not serve in the Romanian Army, we are Romanians, that’s why we returned home and that’s why this association exists and works in Romania”.
AALE Romania, like all associations of LS veterans in the world, is based on one of the fundamental principles of the institution: “We leave no one behind”. Thus, says Bogdan, “the main purpose of the association is to help former soldiers of the Legion”. Veterans in the Association have a network of acquaintances and friends that they can use, when needed, to help their colleagues.
„Former colleagues work in a wide range of fields, we have teachers, entrepreneurs, builders, transporters and so on“, he says.
The association participates in commemorations and other events organized by the French Embassy in Romania. The diplomatic institution even issued a letter of recommendation for AALE Romania, recognizing the merits and importance of the Romanian legionnaires. In fact, AALE Romania is affiliated and officially recognized by FSALE – Fédération des Sociétés d’Anciens de la Légion Étrangère (Federation of Associations of Veterans of the French Legion), an entity under the umbrella of which all associations of legionary veterans in the world gather.
The association established in 2006 began to be active in 2018, when several veteran legionnaires returned to Romania. AALE Romania has 50-55 members from most counties in Romania.
„The nucleus is in Cluj and here we have more members probably for economic reasons, Cluj, just like Bucharest, being better from an economic point of view, many veterans decided to stay here”explains Bogdan, who is, from April 2022, the first elected president of the association.
Veteran legionnaires from AALE Romania at the National Day ceremonies. PHOTO: AALE Romania
Another important goal of the association is to dismantle the myths, most of them pejorative, that circulate in relation to LS, Bogdan Gârbovan testifies.
He claims that one of the biggest confusions about the LS is that it is considered a mercenary army: “The LS is a special elite corps of the French Army and serves the interests of France, just as the Romanian Army serves the interests of Romania”.
The President claims that there are former colleagues who, after settling their accounts with the Legion, joined groups such as Blackwater, Wagner or Ukrainian Foreign Legionbut this is unrelated to LS.
Bogdan claims that it is a legend that Legion soldiers are sent on the bloodiest missions: “LS goes where the French Army goes. It doesn’t always open theaters of war, it depends. There are moments and moments. The French army is now made up of professionals. We are all volunteers, we all follow the decisions of the bosses”.
In addition, legionnaires who have completed their training become pensioners of the French state. The Legion has a department that deals with the reconversion of soldiers for civilian life, ensuring training in various jobs. Bogdan Gârbovan took an eight-month logistics course at a civilian institution, during which he was an employee of the Legion, and 80% of his costs were covered by the LS.
The Cluj resident says that the Legion never had problems with recruitment: “One recruit out of ten or maybe eight candidates now manages to enter the Legion. LS always seduced, princes, doctors, professors, generals from other armies were here, we have quite a wide panel of personalities”.
Gârbovan at an event of the French Embassy on the occasion of the commemoration of Armistice Day
Are your workouts putting your life at risk?
Bogdan Gârbovan claims that there are many “nonsense” circulating on the Internet regarding the activities of the legionnaires, who would be left in the jungle or in the desert and have to return alone, putting their lives in danger. “Indeed, we have training courses, survival courses, but they are organized, you are prepared beforehand, there is a doctor in case of anything. No one parachutes you into the Amazon jungle with a knife and says: “You have to do 500 kilometers to the base and if you come… you come, if you don’t… you don’t”he elaborates.
The veteran concludes that things have changed enormously compared to the situation two or three decades ago, when “maybe in training you would take a beating, now not a word.”
Besides, he says, there is that “something” in the Legion that creates an extremely strong bond between people. “Several CEOs have tried to figure out what that ‘something’ is that makes highly cohesive teams in the Legion. It is known that in the Legion we have very hard training. I believe that a team is best welded not by going out for beer, but when the team suffers together. That’s when leaders are born and the group is welded, that’s when you know who keeps their cool, that’s when you know who you can rely on, when you have to pick him up and the one who’s fainting there from hunger and sleeplessness, you know the man best when he is at the end of his strength, tired, sleepless and hungry”explains the veteran.
He says that regardless of whether you leave the Legion happy or sad, wherever you meet another Legionnaire you will at least have a coffee with him. “I know people who have defected and say they have never found anywhere else what they found in the Legion”he tells.
The veteran military also dispels the myth that the Legion is hunting them to punish defectors. Such a legend also appeared in a well-known film from the 90s with Jean-Claude Van Damme – Lyonheart – in the role of a legionnaire who deserted and moved to the USA and who is scrupulously pursued by two fellow legionnaires, to take him back. “It’s nonsense. In 1998, for example, about 30 people deserted from one unit. How would it have been, to send two men for every deserter? Were 60 legionnaires going to look for them? Who can afford to pay 60 people to look for 30 idiots?”.
Omerta regarding the Legion
There’s a myth that you’re not allowed to talk about what you’ve done in the Legion. Gârbovan claims that, in fact, the Legion makes communication efforts that neither the French Army does: “There is a website, there is a YouTube channel, where you can find all the information you need. Compared to 26 years ago, when I joined, I think the Legion has become 99% transparent.”
The Cluj resident believes that an element that has caused a lot of misinformation on the subject of the Legion are the stories told by candidates who were not admitted or those who deserted. “The human phenomenon called envy intervenes. A boy who went there probably didn’t last mentally/physically and was rejected and then came home. To explain his “failure”, he can tell all kinds of stories that are beside the point.” he explained.
As for the tests that candidates have to pass, they are: mental, psychotechnical, physical and medical. The selection lasts from a week to a month. “You don’t get to be in good physical condition. Physical condition is one of the qualities appreciated after you have managed to be admitted”says Bogdan.
Emmanuel Macron, at a ceremony granting French citizenship to soldiers of the Legion.
Are those in trouble with the law accepted in the Legion?
The fact that you can join the Legion under a name other than your real one has given rise to legends that dangerous criminals are accepted here: “If you have problems with justice, you are not welcome. There is a cell which, among other duties, checks the background of recruits. Currently, if you owe more than a certain amount to the state, you may be asked to leave. If you are suspected of murder, wanted or have major problems with the justice system, you will definitely be rejected.”
There is a 6-month probationary period after passing the tests, where recruits can drop out or Legion officials can decide to end their collaboration for various reasons. “During that period, you are also checked. If you said you don’t have a record and they find out you do, or if you said you haven’t been incarcerated and they find out you’ve done jail time, you’ll be denied. Lying is penalized very harshly. Transparency is very important”.
Asked if, having joined the Foreign Legion, he had to kill, Bogdan Gârbovan answered: “When he falls into an ambush, I am convinced that any military must react. You get an order that a superior assumes, and I’m sure he has some explaining to do, just like in any army. In LS you don’t shoot and then ask questions”.
He says that you can go through a cycle of 5 years or even 20 years without experiencing the “baptism of fire” as they say in the LS.
“There are quite a few conflicts, now, in which the French Army is involved and in which there is direct armed contact. There were conflicts in Mali, in Afghanistan, where I unfortunately had colleagues who died“, Gârbovan also told.