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All Things French - Blackfive's Encounter with a French Army General

Posted By Blackfive • [June 18, 2003]

Original Blogspot Posting - June 18, 2003

Back in 1992, I was a First Lieutenant (1LT) in the US Army. I was an Executive Officer - 2nd in Command of a Company - in the 3rd Infantry Division (3rd ID) and was headquartered in Wurzburg, Germany, which was nestled in the hills of the northern tip of Bavaria. It was the end of June, and I was getting ready to head back to the states.

Now, normally, when you are leaving one post for another, you receive about ten days administrative leave (read vacation or time off) in order to put your things in order - things like shipping your car back to the states, packing and shipping your belongings, and ensuring that you have properly filled out about ten reams of paperwork properly. It is during this standard, ten day period that you are considered untouchable for additional duty assignments. For all intents and purposes, you are supposed to be considered already gone...

Well, over the Fourth of July weekend, the 3rd ID was going to celebrate it's 75th Anniversary. Major General (MG) Keller, the Division Commander, was going to bring every living 3rd ID Medal of Honor (MOH) recipient to Germany. This meant that each MOH winner would need a junior officer as an escort. You guessed it, MG Keller caught me in his net for junior officers even though I was supposed to be left alone.

Please understand that is was a great duty to escort a MOH winner - so I didn't complain - hell, I wanted to meet the heroes and I ended up as escort officer for Ola Mize. He was a Sergeant when he received the MOH and ended his career in the Army as a Colonel. He was a great guy, very easy going and funny. I really liked being around him. I even had the Division Staff Duty Officer - charged with knowing everything that was going on at night and had keys to open every building - open the bowling alley on base for Colonel Mize at midnight so we could bowl and have a beer. After bowling, I dropped the colonel off at his VIP suite. I caught up with the other junior officers who escorted MOH winners that day, and the consensus was that every single one of them were great guys. All of us had been treated with enormous respect. Hell, I bowled and drank beers with an amazing American hero that I would have willingly carried on my back around the base.

After the initial night, Colonel Mize received a higher ranking officer to escort him around by daylight. So, I said my goodbyes, shook the colonel's hand, and went to find out if I was still needed for escort duty. Colonel Mize's last words to me were, "Someday, Matt, you will have the honor of being led around by a lieutenant. When that day comes, don't be a jackass."

My next duty was to escort a French general who was being treated with Dignitary status. His name was General Jannier (pronounced Jza-nay), and he was one of the French Commando Brigade commanders. Since I had served in the American Special Forces, it was thought by the officer making the assignment roster that we would have something in common. I was disappointed that I didn't get another MOH winner, and, quite frankly, would rather be packing up my belongings rather than escorting a French General around. Actually, I would rather have had a colonscopy than spend time with a French General.

I took General Jannier on a tour around the base, to an orchestra concert, and various other festivities culminating with a walk down a static display of equipment. What is a static display? It is where you put stationary equipment (like tanks, helicopters, hum-vees, weapon systems, etc.) on display for guests to view. Usually, you have a Sergeant stationed at each piece of equipment, and the Sergeant, in a docent-like role, will describe the equipment in great detail. Almost always, it is the Sergeant's actual equipment - meaning, the Sergeant is the subject-matter expert on the equipment.

General Jannier did not speak English. He had an American Army Captain as an interpreter. As I walked with the General, the Army Captain interpreter stopped each Sergeant from talking about his equipment - instead, he insisted that I describe what we were looking at and then he would translate it for the General. When I asked why, the Captain just said, "Lieutenant, just do as the General asks."

As we moved along, it became more and more apparent to me that General Jannier did not think very highly of enlisted soldiers. This thought began to grind on my nerves because I was a "mustang" - meaning that I had been a Sergeant before becoming an Officer. Sergeants (Non-Commissioned Officers) in the American military were more educated, motivated and dedicated than ever before - and they served for a pitiance and most could qualify for welfare/food stamps. Couple this with the fact that the General would mutter things in French while I was describing the equipment and you can probably tell why I was getting a little irritated. I kept getting the impression that he was criticizing the US Army with American Sergeants looking on.

So we walked through the static display as I described various personnel carriers, hum-vees, radio equipment, etc. with the Sergeants just looking on with an "WTF" expression on their faces. The Captain would tell the General everything I said in French. After an excruciating hour of this, we reached the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank - it was immaculate and magnificent. The M1A1 is 60 tons of homogenous steel that can move over 30-55 mph over rough terrain and blast an enemy's army right out of its path. The M1A1 was the darling of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Standing in front of the impressive tank was a Sergeant that could have posed for a recruiting poster. To me, the M1A1 display was a work of art.

Holding up my hand to stop the Sergeant from describing his M1A1, I began describing the tank in great detail. It has an impressive array of weapons, and roles of the crew are interesting. While I was talking, General Jannier made some comments in French under his breath. The Sergeant assigned to discuss the tank's attributes gave me a confused look.

I thought, That's it! I can't take any more of this arrogant bullsh#t!

But, because I had a lingering doubt that the General might actually be sincere, what I politely asked was, "Captain, what did the General just say?"

The Army Captain interpreter replied, "Lieutenant, don't worry about it."

I grew more insistent, "Captain, what did the General just say."

The Captain, exasperated as well, just mumbled, "He says that it is inferior to the Leclerc (French) tank. That's all."

My incredulous voice went up a few decibels, "Inferior?!", a few more decibels, "Why?!! Because it doesn't have three gears for REVERSE?"

The smile on the M1A1's Sergeant's face was priceless. However, the Captain turned white as a ghost. I could read the "Oh SH#T!!!" look on his face. General Jannier looked stunned, then you could see his eyes narrowed on me, his smirk faded into a sneer.

The Army Captain's face tightened up. He turned to me to address me directly, "Lieutenant, General Jannier can speak English. HE...JUST...CHOOSES...NOT...TO!"

Oh SH#T!!!!

I was replaced by another escort officer (faster than you can say "Your career is OVER!"), told to stay in my quarters, received a General Letter of Reprimand for pissing off an allied General Officer (conduct unbecoming), and ordered to stay away from all French nationals on base.

For awhile, this story was told at the Officer's Club or at a poker game - more often than not to poke fun at me. Now, it seems to be a badge of honor. I couldn't have done more to piss off the French Army - even if I had been wearing this shirt.

Update:
July 18, 2003 - Found a better shirt to wear for ze General...Thanks, Spoons.

Amazing Accolades:

Winner of the New Blog Showcase July 21-28, 2003.

"Matt of Blackfive is a national hero. I'm almost ready to give him a permalink on this story alone. If you bother to read anything I ever link to, make it this." - Frank J. of IMAO

"Getting Blackfive dinged with an official letter of reprimand probably represents the greatest French military victory of all time." - Mr. Green

"...join us in a loud HUZZAH! for Matt of Blackfive as he joins us in the Dept. of Hegemony by Force. Anybody who's told of a stinking froggie "general" in this way is a Gott-damned, true-blue, larger-than-life buddy-for-life as far as I'm concerned and I owe him a damn beer for just letting me read about it. Thankfully, he owes me one as well. The one that's now spread all over my keyboard, to be exact." - Emporer Misha I of The Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler

"...the pants-wetting funniness of the pay-off line, and I still recommend it as a must-read for anyone who has less-than-favorable feelings about the French." - Harvey at Bad Money

Cheers.

Blackfive


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