Paratroopers strengthen French connection

British paratroopers have been training on air, land and sea with their counterparts from the French Foreign Legion as the two units build a closer working relationship.

Colchester-based B Company, 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (B Coy, 2 PARA) has been working alongside 2e Regiment Etranger de Parachutistes (2e REP) at their base on the rugged island of Corsica.

Exercise BLUE LEGIONNAIRE has seen the two units fire each other’s weaponry and practise fighting together in urban areas. The 2 PARA soldiers earned French parachute wings by jumping with French Ensemble de Parachutage Individuel parachutes from a French C-160 Transall aircraft, while jumps from an RAF C-130 Hercules earned 2e REP soldiers their British wings.

2e REP has specialist mountain and amphibious troops who taught 2 PARA’s soldiers survival techniques and climbing on Corsica’s snow-capped mountains and, in the Mediterranean Sea, handling assault boats and attacking and defending beaches.

The two-week long training was part of the Interim Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (i-CJEF) – an operational partnership between the British 16 Air Assault Brigade and the French 11e Brigade Parachutiste, which stands at high readiness to deploy on contingency operations ranging from war fighting to disaster relief.

Major Adam Wilson, Officer Commanding B Coy, said: “2 PARA and 2e REP maintain strong links as sister battalions. Exercise BLUE LEGIONNAIRE has been about us seeing 2e REP on their home turf and learning more about how they operate and live. It has been a huge success in developing the understanding, respect and trust between our two units, which could prove critical in future operations.

“Corsica itself has been an excellent location that has allowed us to train in the air, on the land and in the sea. As airborne troops the sea and high mountains are not familiar environments to us, but it has been rewarding to challenge ourselves and learn new skills.”

Private Davey Clark, 23 from Hull, said: “I only joined 2 PARA from basic training in November, so this is my first exercise – to come to Corsica to work with the French Foreign Legion has really thrown me in at the deep end. It’s been really interesting to learn about French tactics and weapons, with the first round I’ve fired since joining 2 PARA coming from a 22mm cannon in the turret of a French armoured vehicle!”

Corporal Chris Hooper, 26 from Hereford, said: “It’s been a very different experience to see how another army does its business. The legionnaires are a very disciplined and professional outfit and we’ve worked well together because we’ve got the same role and mentality. It’s been a friendly exercise with a lot of war stories swapped – they did an operational jump in Mali last year and we’ve get a lot to say about Afghanistan.”

2e REP’s Captain Pierre-Francois Mitton said: “2e REP is defined by three things – Corsica, the Legion and parachuting. This exercise has been an excellent opportunity to show our sister unit 2 PARA who we are and what our unique capabilities are.

“2e REP and 2 PARA share the airborne spirit and our soldiers have a very similar level of training, discipline and operational experience. After training together we know each other better and are well placed if we deploy on an operation in the future.”

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