Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sincerity And The Blessing Of A True Reflection

A goodly portion of the American population are very concerned with how the rest of the world sees us. We see ourselves in a funhouse mirror reflection through the press and through anecdotal evidence reflecting the personal views of the teller. We find what we are looking for.

This was forwarded to me today. The blogosphere is large, and sometimes it takes a while to become aware of such things. A bullcrap story about a CIA agent plying a village elder with Viagra can go 'round the 'net in short order, but something like this takes weeks, apparently. It is out there, though; and it's destined to be a classic because it shows us something rarely seen. It shows us a glimpse of ourselves through someone else's eyes. For a small group of Frenchmen assigned to an OMLT (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team... the NATO partner equivalent of ETT's) working with the ANA, a company-plus element of the 101st Airborne represented America. They were America.

There are a couple of different translations of this, and I'm going to use the one that was published, along with the prologue that I found with it. Then I will add a couple of comments that were made on the original site, a French blog written in English by Jean-Marc Liotier.

It has been said what a blessing it is to see ourselves as others truly see us. This is true not just personally, but as a nation. We are told that the world hates us, and for some that goes greatly into their decision making process when voting. We are told many things, convincingly, by people who have their own viewpoints and want to steer us towards them. I've dealt with some of that in the past couple of posts. Those messages lack integrity, other than the cohesiveness of the beliefs and perceptions that drive them beyond facts. Here is a reflection of our nation through its Soldiers, as seen through the eyes of an outsider who has seen the truest character; that which comes out through long periods of close association and is put to the test of deadly stress.

You never really know someone until you have lived with that person in close quarters and have seen them subjected to great stresses. It is easy to display the character that you wish for others to see for certain hours of the day and away from your home. Many people have a "public face." A person's truest character cannot be concealed in months of combat. A group's truest character is shown the same way.

Somehow I missed this the first time around. If you did, too, then enjoy this glimpse with me of our national character through this most honest reflection of it.

American troops in Afghanistan through the eyes of a French OMLT infantryman

The US often hears echoes of worldwide hostility against the application of its foreign policy, but seldom are they reached by the voices of those who experience first hand how close we are to the USA. In spite of contextual political differences and conflicting interests that generate friction, we do share the same fundamental values - and when push comes to shove that is what really counts. Through the eyes of that French OMLT (Operational Mentoring Liaison Teams) infantryman you can see how strong the bond is on the ground. In contrast with the Americans, the French soldiers don’t seem to write much online - or maybe the proportion is the same but we just have less people deployed. Whatever the reason, this is a rare and moving testimony which is why I decided to translate it into English, so that American people can catch a glimpse of the way European soldiers see them. Not much high philosophy here, just the first hand impressions of a soldier in contact - but that only makes it more authentic.

Here is the original French article, and here is my translation :

“We have shared our daily life with two US units for quite a while - they are the first and fourth companies of a prestigious infantry battalion whose name I will withhold for the sake of military secrecy. To the common man it is a unit just like any other. But we live with them and got to know them, and we henceforth know that we have the honor to live with one of the most renowned units of the US Army - one that the movies brought to the public as series showing “ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary events”. Who are they, those soldiers from abroad, how is their daily life, and what support do they bring to the men of our OMLT every day ? Few of them belong to the Easy Company, the one the TV series focuses on. This one nowadays is named Echo Company, and it has become the support company.

They have a terribly strong American accent - from our point of view the language they speak is not even English. How many times did I have to write down what I wanted to say rather than waste precious minutes trying various pronunciations of a seemingly common word? Whatever state they are from, no two accents are alike and they even admit that in some crisis situations they have difficulties understanding each other.

Heavily built, fed at the earliest age with Gatorade, proteins and creatine - they are all heads and shoulders taller than us and their muscles remind us of Rambo. Our frames are amusingly skinny to them - we are wimps, even the strongest of us - and because of that they often mistake us for Afghans.

Here we discover America as it is often depicted: their values are taken to their paroxysm, often amplified by lack of privacy and the loneliness of this outpost in the middle of that Afghan valley. Honor, motherland - everything here reminds of that : the American flag floating in the wind above the outpost, just like the one on the post parcels. Even if recruits often originate from the hearth of American cities and gang territory, no one here has any goal other than to hold high and proud the star spangled banner. Each man knows he can count on the support of a whole people who provides them through the mail all that an American could miss in such a remote front-line location: books, chewing gums, razorblades, Gatorade, toothpaste etc. in such way that every man is aware of how much the American people backs him in his difficult mission. And that is a first shock to our preconceptions : the American soldier is no individualist. The team, the group, the combat team are the focus of all his attention.

And they are impressive warriors! We have not come across bad ones, as strange at it may seem to you when you know how critical French people can be. Even if some of them are a bit on the heavy side, all of them provide us everyday with lessons in infantry know-how. Beyond the wearing of a combat kit that never seem to discomfort them (helmet strap, helmet, combat goggles, rifles etc.) the long hours of watch at the outpost never seem to annoy them in the slightest. On the one square meter wooden tower above the perimeter wall they stand the five consecutive hours in full battle rattle and night vision goggles on top, their sight unmoving in the directions of likely danger. No distractions, no pauses, they are like statues nights and days. At night, all movements are performed in the dark - only a handful of subdued red lights indicate the occasional presence of a soldier on the move. Same with the vehicles whose lights are covered - everything happens in pitch dark even filling the fuel tanks with the Japy pump.

And combat ? If you have seen Rambo you have seen it all - always coming to the rescue when one of our teams gets in trouble, and always in the shortest delay. That is one of their tricks : they switch from T-shirt and sandals to combat ready in three minutes. Arriving in contact with the ennemy, the way they fight is simple and disconcerting: they just charge! They disembark and assault in stride, they bomb first and ask questions later - which cuts any pussyfooting short.

We seldom hear any harsh word, and from 5 AM onwards the camp chores are performed in beautiful order and always with excellent spirit. A passing American helicopter stops near a stranded vehicle just to check that everything is alright; an American combat team will rush to support ours before even knowing how dangerous the mission is - from what we have been given to witness, the American soldier is a beautiful and worthy heir to those who liberated France and Europe.

To those who bestow us with the honor of sharing their combat outposts and who everyday give proof of their military excellence, to those who pay the daily tribute of America’s army’s deployment on Afghan soil, to those we owned this article, ourselves hoping that we will always remain worthy of them and to always continue hearing them say that we are all the same band of brothers”.

Here are some selected comments from that site:

From the original author:

# french autor Says:
September 21st, 2008 at 15:30

thanks for having translate my article. thanks to my partnership U.S unit for all. American people must be proud to get this kind of boys.

An American reader of the French blog writes:

# United Conservatives of Virginia Says:
November 14th, 2008 at 19:47

Serendipitious Praise from an unexpected source…

We see only the opinions that the press deem worthy to repeat. Anti-Americanism sells papers in other nations as much as it sells here. We don’t hear the voices of foreigners that work closely with Americans and admire them.

Until now.


Another says:

# Stephen Says:
November 18th, 2008 at 8:43

Wow. I have NEVER read a positive thing about us from the French point of view. Thank you so very, very much!

An American Captain writes:

# Captain Jason Adler Says:
November 19th, 2008 at 15:34

It is truly rare that articles like this reach the mainstream media. As a Soldier who has fought in Iraq and am about to deploy to Afghanistan, it makes me proud to know that our Coalition partners appreciate all that we do. The American Soldier is absolutely amazing. When a comrade needs help, they will lay down their lives without a second thought. It is an honor and a privilege to command America’s sons in battle. Thank you for writing such a positive article, and know that the US Soldier is appreciative of all that our Coalition partners do.

Jason N. Adler
US Army

The father of a 101st Soldier writes:

# Bill Says:
November 20th, 2008 at 18:32

My son is a platoon sergeant with the 101st in Afghanistan and was recently serving alongside French troops. He had nothing but positive comments to pass along about THEM! Seeing such a nice article about our own men (and women!) should make us all proud. He and his men will be happy to see how they are viewed.

A veteran writes:

# Terry Says:
November 21st, 2008 at 17:34

In four years soldiering with the French in France, Germany, and Iraq, I can tell all that the feelings expressed here were felt just as strongly about our French counterparts. Forget the stereotypes! Know the people.

An American Blue Star Mother writes:

# Pam L Says:
November 21st, 2008 at 20:02

This article moved me to tears. If you believe the U.S. media, the entire world hates us, especially our military. Both my sons serve. It really hurts me to hear this day after day. This moving tribute restores my faith in humanity. There is an old Army saying: There ain’t no athiests in fox holes. Well, I’d like to add to the saying: There aint’ no strangers in fox holes.

God bless the French. A big Merci from Texas. In closing, I just want to say my mothers maiden name was LeMonds.

And where can I get some of that French chow? You guys eat better than I do! :)

God bless the French military. May we forever be allies.

A Brit expatriate living in France writes:

# Steve Fox Says:
November 21st, 2008 at 20:41

As a Brit living in Normandy, who worked alongside wonderful Americans in North Sea oil drilling (Ocean Victory, Odeco, 1980-1) it’s good to read this post and the comments. HarleyDavidson writes about the American press, well you know what those people are the same over here in France and the UK. They purport to speak for us, but really don’t have any grip on the way ordinary people live or see the world. They don’t understand patriotism at all, for example. France is maybe more dominated by its so-called intellectuals than any other country, so it tends to come over as pretentious and arty-farty, but I know from living in the country out here, its full of warmhearted, gifted, yet modest people who match up to anyone anywhere.
Lets all make sure we listen to the people behind the frontpeople, people…

There are 190 comments on the page over at the original site. I've been beaten to the punch here by several other milblogs, including my old buddy Bouhammer. What the hell... the tripe Viagra story has been so oft-repeated now that it has become urban legend... so I will once more repeat this story and point you to this site, which has become a friendship letter between French and Americans, with others commenting. People are still commenting, months later. Perhaps you will add one, too.

Vive les Etats Unis! Vive la France!

I copied that. I don't speak a lick of French, but I do understand the sentiment.


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 01/15/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. Great post! I move that all foreign relations and negotiations be conducted by soldiers from each country who have served together in combat. Things would be greatly simplified vs letting politicians do it. We cut to the chase and are honest. Underneath all that kit we're all just soldiers!

    But man I wish we had some of their wine

  3. I agree with Vampire 06! I know you guys are better diplomats than the dips we have now or ever have had. lol.

    Excellent post. I appreciate learning about other people, especially the way you tell it. Thank you.

  4. I agree with many on here, it is sad that America has such a bad reputation. Many other countries think us stupid, fat, lazy, arrogant, and invasive. Naturally, some American's will fall in to these categories, but that means nothing.

    I too am glad that we have recieved good press from someone, as it's hard to come by. I feel that America gets a bad name because we defend other countries (allies) more than some other countries.

    Not everyone in America thinks they are better than everyone, either. I for one know only my own country, but respect others. If the alleged "America-haters" would take the time to speak to Americans (not cruise the streets and find the biggest morons possible to speak to and ask silly questions as shown on youtube), they would find that we are as a whole a very well educated and friendly country. No country is perfect, even the countries with the best reputations have their flaws.

    I will also add another thing that DOES anger me about America. We seem to have lost touch with our pride in our soliders. People say because they don't support WHY we are in Afganistan, that they don't support our troops.

    REGARDLESS of how you feel about why our men are where they are, you should support them. They are the TRUE men of America, the men who fight for our rights and our liberties. They put their life on the line for the United States of America, and even if that is the only thing that you agree with, you should give them your full respect and support.

    God bless those of you overseas fighting for our country, fighting for others, it doesn't matter what you're doing over there. You represent the United States of America and I for one appreciate all that you've done and are doing. I hope to convince those who do not support you, to quit being so inhuman.

    God Bless.


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