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August 08, 2003

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

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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Comments


Perhaps it might interest you and your fans that the 53,000 US battle deaths and 63,000 "other deaths in service" plus 204,000 other casualties suffered by Americans during the First World War were to rescue the French from a war THEY STARTED.

While Germany did invade neutral Belgium, and Germany did sink the Lusitania and send the Zimmerman telegram, there is no question that WW I was started on direct orders of French President Poincare and Russian Czar Nicholas II -- they specifically authorized the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in order to start a general European war.

Their motives were the recovery of Alsace-Lorraine (France) and Pan-Slavist domination of the Balkans (Russia).

I say this not from an ideological perspective -- i have no interest in German nationalism, etc. -- it is simply the way things happened.

To understand why France and Russia started the war, I recommend "The Russian Dagger: Cold War in the Days of the Czars" by well-known English historian Virginia Cowles.

We should have stayed the hell out of that one.

Posted by: Stan Brin at September 15, 2003 02:05 AM

HOOAHH ! I have recently become an frequent reader of Blackfive. I am prior service ARMY. I finished my service obligation as a Sergeant / E-5. I like reading the "war stories" that you have posted. It has got me to thinking about stories of whn i was in, and i think i might try to start to get them down in my blog. A very Large HOOAH for placing the French General in his place. Thank you for your commitment to our country and i look forward to reading more...

~Moose~

Posted by: Wandering Moose at September 25, 2003 09:50 AM

TO: BlackFive
RE: Your Career Is Over

That's the problem with being a mustang.

When one sets asside their stripes and take on bars, they don't set asside their candor and insistance on the truth.

Got me too....

...but with a newly appointed, overbearing megalomaniac of a infantry battalion commander when I was a company commander; he was screwing over the men in a needless fashion and I objected. Within a few months he removed all the subordinate officers who were not yes-men. Consequently it went from the best batt in the division to a mediocre one.

He probably made general, like Wesley Clark, who was the tank batt commander in our brigade. They were both more politically motivated than militarily.

Regards,

Chuck(le)

Posted by: Chuck Pelto at October 30, 2003 07:29 AM

Hey, Matty B! Long time no see. I CAN'T BELIVE THAT I STUMBLED ACROSS YOUR SITE!!!

Will send you an email. You, me and Johnny Ball-Game need to get together in NYC.

Airborne All The Way...to the bar.

Posted by: Hammerhead at November 4, 2003 12:19 PM

The French have tanks???

I hope they are better designed than their aircraft carrier was.

Posted by: ErikZ at December 16, 2003 10:32 AM

Actually, you weren't too far off. The LeClerc tank does have two reverse gears. SOURCE:http://www.army-technology.com/projects/leclerc/

That said, it's always a good idea to give pompous folk who insist on using a translator even if they can speak your language what-for. Especially if they're French.

Posted by: Admiral-Flota, CCCP at April 4, 2004 11:30 AM

Matt...I am new to this whole blog thing and stumbled onto this story from Jen Martinez. The Army should have given you a medal. If only all americans were as patriotic and loved their country like you.

Posted by: frank at April 6, 2004 03:26 PM

Matt,

The French HAVE had some brave soldiers in their armies; unfortunately for them, they've been few and far between. What few have emerged since WWI invariably had the misfortune of fighting for corrupt, generally cowardly governments. Guys like Bigeard, Massu, Trinquier, Langlais, Godard, Challe or DeTassigny would have been welcome additions to any US force. Jannier, however, sounds like an ass out of the ranks of De Castries, Cogny, Navarre, Petain, Ailleret and the worst of the lot, DeGaulle.

You have to feel sorry for a lot of the French military. Many of them lost their lives fighting the right enemies--Communists, Islamic fundamentalists--only to see their sacrifices wasted by cowardly governments at home. The similarities between them and our own Vietnam experience is very strong. It's unfair not to acknowledge it.

Posted by: Dan McWiggins at April 8, 2004 10:34 AM

French nuclear weapons include 4 SSBN (two more ones are currently being built, probably just for you my little war-losing youessan friend !!!) and over 10.000 nuclear missiles. Land- based force de frappe was dismantled years ago: too vulnerable.
For the French submarines can’t be tracked continuously, it is ***IMPOSSIBLE*** FOR THE YOUESSEY to deal with the 4 ones simultaneously. French SSBN are particularly excellent at deceiving youess poor-performing tracking systems. The Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier would have to be destroyed IMMEDIATELY so as to avoid the slightest chance of its nuclear-capable Super Étendards or Mirages taking off and flying over oceans at mach 1,3 or 2, respectively, up to the youess territory. In any case, the youessey has to be prepared to lose 200 major cities at best, 1.500 cities & towns at worst (1.500 = 800 youess targets assigned to the 4 SSBN + 700 youess targets assigned to nuclear aircraft).

When the French had their plateau d’Albion-based force de frappe and only a couple of nuclear subs, it might have been envisaged for the youess to attack France first. Now it is too late, dudes... Until a credible missile defence system is implemented in the youessey, the French are totally unassailable. It's a really awful situation for the youess army. If just one of our 4 French SSBN survived, it would deliver 200-kilotonne warheads onto 200 youess cities.

I wish you a very good night.

--

Posted by: François at May 4, 2004 04:04 AM

What a great story! It's one of those moments in life where you break the rules, get punished, but later on in life you *never regret it*.

High five!

-Jim

Posted by: Jim at June 3, 2004 06:50 PM

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