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French soldiers let loose on social networks, between schoolboy memes and brotherly support

“Aren’t you a Balkan soldier?” Because I really want to stick my bayonet in you. » The meme is distressingly vulgar: a bad photo of the former Chief of the Defense Staff, General François Lecointre, covered in pinkish hearts. “For Valentine’s Day, tell him not with flowers but with the Lord General of the Marine Troops Lecointre”, has fun on the Mike Echo Facebook page.

For Valentine's Day, among the most ridiculous cards, those of the former chief of staff of the armies (CEMA) flourish.

Doesn’t that make you laugh? You probably didn’t serve in the army. The paratroopers, porpoises and other biffins, themselves, trumpet their comments as their favorite influencer desecrates the stripes and organizes the general melee between the specialties. To understand, you should know that the officer in the photo, the highest ranking officer of the institution from 2017 to 2021, was on the front line of the last French assault with bayonets, on the Vrbanja bridge in Bosnia, on May 27, 1995 .

A – very – fat humor, typical of the worst military meals, around which the soldiers evacuate tensions and frustrations, armed with a beer. To an uninformed audience, however, some of these puns might seem insulting. “I could understand that people take it badly”admits Thomas Romeo – it’s a pseudonym -, the main host of the page:

“We portray recurring characters in the army and in our barracks. There is everything: social cases, Catholic officers, guys who spend their lives fighting, guys who are too smart and you wonder what they are doing there…”

“The old warrant officers who become fat, everyone in the armies laughs about it, and so do they”, also argues Dorian, aviator, one of the hosts of the page “L’amicale du vent”. So that the trashy humor does not become hurtful, the comedians ensure that it is always about laughing with each other, never laughing at each other.

Military influencers

“Mike Echo”, a reference to the initials of “evil spirit” according to the radio code used by the military, was born during an operation in the Sahel in 2018. Thomas Romeo, corporal in the marine infantry, then circulated his bad montages to amuse the friends. He remembers being encouraged to make it a social media page by Chief Brigadier Ronan Pointeau, who was killed a year later by an improvised explosive device in Mali. “If our humor is so cynical, it’s because we have difficult times to go through”explains Thomas Romeo

The farce, which today has 83,000 subscribers on Facebook and 48,000 on Instagram, is arousing vocations. First there was “Mike Echo”, then the other armies startedtestifies Dorian, the aviator, who helps to amuse the 17,000 subscribers of “L’amicale du vent”. We were about two years ago. » The sailors of “Oscar Alpha”, they were 11,000 before migrating to a private group, more discreet. “We sent memes between colleaguestells us one of the four animators, by text message from the boat on which he is deployed. Seeing “Mike Echo”, we said to ourselves: “Why not us”? »

The earthlings carry the airmen, who in turn laugh at the sailors

In order for the community to expand ever further, everyone challenges and provokes each other. The earthlings carry the airmen, who in turn make fun of the sailors. “The goal is to bond”, believes Dorian. The success of “Mike Echo” is such that the former porpoise, freshly converted into civilian life, begins to develop derivative products: “Agneugneu lifestyle” patches and stickers, caricaturing a slightly punk French soldier, flourish on uniforms , in the barracks and in the bases where the tricolors operate abroad.

We tested the market “, explains Thomas Romeo. If he works today in a recruitment firm, the former soldier hopes to try the adventure of entrepreneurship.

We are setting up an SAS [société par actions simplifiée], into which we are going to inject a few thousand euros. Like everyone else, I want to earn my living and emancipate myself. »

Soldiers fearing family anger when they announce they are going on an operation.

Solidarity networks

Until then, the sales of accessories and the influence of “Mike Echo” have mainly served to support military aid associations, such as Kilo Project or Thirty Days at Sea, which support the physically and psychologically injured. The authors – there are a dozen of them to feed the page – also use their visibility to relay the pots set up by the families of killed soldiers.

“Mike Echo” also plays a social role. Its leaders have set up an email address behind which volunteers take turns to respond to colleagues in bad shape. “We realized that a lot of guys in burnout or with post-traumatic stress syndrome came to talk to us in private messages”testifies Thomas Romeo:

“Some guys don’t dare to confide for fear of endangering their careers. So we try to mediate. »

Asked about the accommodation conditions, the Housing office threatens: the unit commander (CDU) will crack down!

This support goes even further, to the point that it is sometimes considered “like the unofficial trade unionist of the force”. The term may come as a surprise to a soldier, given that the defense code continues to prohibit trade unionism in the French armies. It is, however, the one also used by his fellow aviator, Dorian: “People who are hostile to trade unionism are those who have never had problems. When it happens to you, you realize you’re all alone. » Today, when they have difficulties, soldiers can turn to their category presidents, respected elders who can talk to the leaders. Insufficient, for Dorian:

I had two, three fights in the army. When I went to see the president of the non-commissioned officers, he asked me what I needed to explain to me how to do without it. »

These increasingly influential soldiers on the Internet know that they are read by their superiors. They use their scathing humor to convey the messages of their community: defense of the bonuses paid to soldiers on maneuvers, advice for better dialogue with the hierarchy, help with retraining…

Internally, they remain cautious and keep this activity secret. None are seen in a demonstration, brandishing banners and merguez to obtain concessions from their minister. On the contrary, they are rather concerned about a peaceful and respectful dialogue with the institution. They fight above all against the lack of information of most of the young people involved. “If the non-commissioned member is too aware of his rights, it is annoying for officers who lose room for manoeuvre”slips Thomas Romeo.

Corrigendum, March 26 at 1:30 p.m.: replacing the principal interviewee’s name with his pseudonym and correcting an error in his rank when he was still in the army.

The lieutenant rises in rank by feeding on a small master corporal.

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