Our first Bastille Day in Paris!! We saw this regiment practicing in the park on the 13th of July from the French Foreign Legion. I personally find them absolutely fascinating! Here is a piece on them from Wikipedia:
"Open to people of any nationality, most Legionnaires still come from European countries but a growing percentage comes from Latin-America, 24%. Most of the Legion's commissioned officers are French with approximately 10% being former Legionnaires who have risen through the ranks.
Membership of the Legion is often a reflection of political shifts: specific national representations generally surge whenever a country has a political crisis and tend to subside once the crisis is over and the flow of recruits dries up. After the First World War, many (Tsarist) Russians joined. Immediately before the Second World War, Czechs, Poles and Jews from Eastern Europe fled to France and ended up enlisting in the Legion. Following the break-up of Yugoslavia, there were many Serbian nationals. Also in the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the changes in the former Warsaw Pact countries, led to an increase in recruitment from Poland and from the former republics of the USSR.
However, in addition to the fluctuating numbers of political refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants from a wide variety of nations, there has been, since the end of World War Two, a strong core from Germany and Britain. The Legion appears to have become as much a part of these two nations' culture as a French institution, and a certain stability in recruitment levels has developed.
After the fall of the Third Reich, Germans, long a major presence in the legion, are believed to have accounted for roughly sixty percent of its manpower.. After the war, the French administered two zones of Western Germany adjacent to France. In these zones, recruitment offices enabled many former German POWs to join the legion almost immediately after their release from prison camps. However, Bernard B. Fall, a leading expert on French Indochina and the author of the famous accounts Street without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place, disputes this figure and claims that Germans made up thirty-five percent of the Legion at most in the post-WWII period. Nevertheless, the image of a German-dominated postwar Foreign Legion is the setting for the well-known novel Devil's Guard, which narrates a former Waffen-SS member's brutal experience of joining the Legion and fighting alongside other former SS against the Viet Minh in Indochina.
During the late 1980s, the Legion saw a large intake of trained soldiers from the UK. These men had left the British Army following its restructuring and the Legion's parachute unit was a popular destination. At one point, the famous 2eme REP had such a large number of British citizens amongst the ranks that it was a standing joke that the unit was really called '2eme PARA', a reference to the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment of the British Army.
While no serious studies have been made of the motives for enlistment over the years, the majority in the Legion's ranks were either those transient souls in need of escape and a regular wage, or refugees from countries undergoing crises. In recent years, however, the improved conditions and professionalism of the Legion have in turn attracted a new kind of 'vocational' recruit, from middle-class backgrounds in stable and prosperous countries, such as the US, Britain and France itself.
In the past, the Legion had a reputation for attracting criminals on the run and would-be mercenaries, but the admissions process is now severely restricted and background checks are performed on all applicants. Generally speaking, convicted felons are prohibited from joining the service. Legionnaires can choose to enlist under a pseudonym ("declared identity"). This disposition exists in order to allow people who want to start their lives over to enlist. French citizens can enlist under a declared, fictitious, foreign citizenship (generally, a francophone one, often that of Canada or Monaco). After one year's service, Legionnaires can regularise their situation under their true identity. After serving in the Legion for three years, a legionnaire may apply for French citizenship. He must be serving under his real name, must no longer have problems with the authorities, and must have served with "honour and fidelity". Furthermore, a soldier who becomes injured during a battle for France can apply for French citizenship under a provision known as "Français par le sang versé" ("French by spilled blood").
The Pionniers (pioneers) are the combat engineers and a traditional unit of the Legion. The sapeurs traditionally sport large beards, wear leather aprons and gloves and hold axes. The sappers were very common in the French army and in other european armies during the Napoleonic era but progressively disappeared in the 19th century, except in the Legion.
In the French Army, since the XVIIIth century, every grenadier battalion had a small unit of sappers. They had the mission to advance, under the enemy's fire, in order to destroy with their axes the obstacles drawn by the enemy and to clear the way for the rest of the infantry. The danger of such missions and their short life expectancies, allowed them certain privileges, such as the authorization to wear beard.
The current pioneer unit of the Legion reintroduced the symbols of the Napoleonic sappers: the beard, the axe, the leather apron, the crossed-axes insignia and the leather gloves. If the parades of the Legion are opened by this unit, it is to commemorate the traditional role of the sappers "opening the way" for the troops."