They are the invisible ones of our armies. You can meet them sometimes, on a weekday or weekend evening, in a train station, with your luggage on your back. Or in public places, gun in hand, as part of Operation Sentinel’s anti-terrorist surveillance and deterrence missions. Civil servants, employees or executives in civilian life, they have decided to give a few days a year to the national defense effort*. On land, in the air force, the navy or the national gendarmerie, these members of the operational reserve have signed up for one or five years in order to become, according to the expression of one of them, ” part-time but full-fledged soldiers”.
With the military programming law for the years 2024 to 2030, which he should promulgate around the symbolic date of July 14, Emmanuel Macron will record the objective of their rise to power. The goal? Reach 105,000 reservists by 2035, ie one reserve soldier for every two active duty personnel. Today, France has only 71,700 (40,000 for the armies, 31,700 for the gendarmerie), to which we can add 5,000 people under the civilian reserve for the national police.
Who are these reservists? Why did they volunteer? How were they integrated into a world with strict rules, after verification of their motivation, their physical aptitude and the absence of a criminal record? The decisive reason may vary, but at the heart of these journeys is found, each time, an identical sense of commitment, even if it turns out to be more or less spontaneous.
Victor, 35, his baccalaureate barely in his pocket at 18, wanted to “help finance (his) studies” (reservists receive remuneration according to their rank, around 60 euros/day for a non-commissioned member). He discovered the reserve on an online forum and joined, “as a simple soldier”, the 8th artillery regiment, then based in Commercy (Meuse). He enjoyed the experience so much that he decided to extend it by joining the school for non-commissioned officers at Saint-Maixent (Deux-Sèvres), then that for officers at Saint Cyr Coëtquidan (Morbihan), from which he graduated as a lieutenant. Today employed in financial engineering, he devotes sixty days a year to the recruitment office of the Foreign Legion at Fort de Nogent (Val de-Marne), taken from his weekends and holidays as well as from the eight days released by his company.
An enriching experience
A graduate of an engineering school, Lieutenant Anne-Sophie, 25, shares her time in the army, in Angers (Maine et-Loire), between surveillance missions and the training of young reservists. She joined the reserve as part of the partnership established with the Grandes Ecoles, which allowed her to learn the art of command. “It’s very rewarding to know that we are participating in the protection of the population and represent support for the active military, but I particularly like my role in the training of young people, she underlines. We let’s teach some, losing their values when they arrive, to find meaning in this experience.”
Accountant in the National Education, Didier, 48, has been in the reserve for nine years. Next week, he will assume his role as an instructor during the Defense and Citizenship Days: “An opportunity to introduce young people to the usefulness of the army, the meaning of commitment, to discuss the rights and duties of the citizen too. In an increasingly unstable world, where war is no longer theoretical, I thus participate modestly in the awakening of awareness in the young generation.”
A civilian consultant, Philippe, 59, joined the reserve following his national service, compulsory at the time. For this officer, it seemed obvious to “be a citizen twice, in the beautiful word of Winston Churchill. Our generation was living on the dividends of the end of the cold war and discovered, in recent years, the war on our territory: a murdered priest, a beheaded professor… Each time, the perception of growing threats increases the number of engagements.” During their training, these men and women, of different ages and backgrounds, learned the rules of military life, the handling of weapons, shooting, combat techniques, first aid in times of war. Sometimes, as part of their specialty, they have received additional lessons that contrast even more with the ordinary concerns of the civilian world: how to deal with NRBC threats (nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical), for example.
A school of values
All insist on the social mixing that this experience allows, where you have to juggle between the imperatives of daily work and the constraints of family life in order to be able to fulfill the missions of patrol, surveillance, training, often assumed on weekends. weekends and vacation days. They all talk about it with enthusiasm too, convinced, having seen it firsthand, that word of mouth and the sharing of their experiences contribute to the awakening of vocations. “This is a unique school where you discover and cultivate values, from courage to self-sacrifice, from esprit de corps to fraternity”, testifies a consultant in a consulting firm, 25, who spends thirty days a year in uniform. Until July 18, when his friends will already be enjoying the beach, he has been ordered to carry out patrols in Valenciennes (North) with “the seven personal” qu he commands.
This journey has changed them. “I discovered rigor at 18”, testifies with hindsight Lieutenant Victor, who has not forgotten either the repeated marches, “where you have to learn humility”, nor the human warmth of the shared ordeal. . “Living together on the pitch is a school of membership. A world where you forgive a failure, but not a lie.” Being a reservist proves, over the testimonies collected, a source of personal and professional enrichment.
“Completing operational missions with his active comrades makes it possible to develop useful skills in companies: risk management, stress management, adaptability, sense of mission”, explains Captain Michel, who entered in the reserve at the age of 34, at 3rd Rima, in Vannes (Morbihan), and employed in a civilian catering group. “The reserve has made me a better manager with a keen sense of my duties,” summarizes Lieutenant Victor. The reform currently in preparation also aims to better promote this participation to the business world with, no doubt, the hope of generating more availability in the future.
A real complementary force
In return, the reservists demand to be taken seriously. “We fought to obtain the same equipment and the same training as our active comrades”, says Lieutenant-Colonel Philippe, president of Unor (National Union of Reserve Officers and Reservist Organizations), participant , as such, to the working group set up by the Ministry of Defence. “The purpose of this rise in power of the reservists, confirms an official from the ministry, is to have a real additional force in order to meet specific needs in areas of expertise (computing, logistics, medicine, law, etc.) and to be able to respond to conflicts of intensity. Because in the event of aggression, the active would suffer the first shock while waiting for the reserve to mobilize.”Each reservist is well aware of this by fully living their commitment, and certainly in a more more significant than the general public, even if terrorism and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have rearmed many consciences: the shadow of the possibility of a conflict still hangs over France.
In a very measured tone, Sergeant Tatiana, 23, a civilian teacher, calmly reminds us: “If tomorrow we found ourselves in a war situation, we would be operational immediately. Thanks to our training, we could supervise the civilians or support the active. By committing, we necessarily think that it is a question of being ready if necessary.” Si vis pacem para bellum, if you want peace, prepare for war: the old Latin adage still applies.
Universal National Service
Wanted by Emmanuel Macron in 2017, this system based on volunteering has been implemented since 2019. With the idea of offering 15-17 year olds “cohesion stays” supposed to “promote the participation of each young person in the life of the nation”, in order to form “a nation of living souls” in the face of “the unexpected”, in the words of the Head of State. defense and security actions, discovery of the commitment constitute the ordinary of the twelve days of these sessions supplemented by “a mission of general interest” of 84 hours. The question of making the SNU mandatory has not yet been decided.