French soldiers break free on social networks, between schoolboy memes and fraternal support

“Are you not a Balkan soldier?” Because I really want to stick my bayonet in you. » The meme is disturbingly vulgar: a bad image of the former chief of defense, General François Lecointre, covered in pink hearts. “For Valentine’s Day, tell him not with flowers, but with Lord General of the Marine Troops Lecointre”, have fun on the Mike Echo Facebook page.

For Valentine's Day, among the most ridiculous cards, they bloom from the former Chief of Staff of the Armies (CEMA).

Doesn’t that make you laugh? You probably did not serve in the army. The paratroopers, guinea pigs and other steak themselves trumpet their comments, while their favorite influences quarrel the stripes and organize the general melee between the specialties. To understand, you should know that the officer in the picture, the institution’s highest ranking officer from 2017 to 2021, was on the front lines of the last French attack with bayonets, on the Vrbanja bridge in Bosnia, on 27 May 1995.

A – very – bold 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 may seem insulting. “I could understand people taking it badly”admits Thomas Reboton, the site’s main host:

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

‘The old police officers getting fat, everyone in the armies laughs at it, and so do they. ”, also claims Dorian, flyer, one of the hosts on the page “L’amicale du vent”. So that the trashy humor does not get hurtful, the comedians make sure 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 Reboton, a non-commissioned officer in the navy, at the time circulating his bad assemblies to amuse friends. He recalls being urged to make it a social media site 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 hard times to go through”explains Thomas Reboton.

The farce, which today has 83,000 subscribers on Facebook and 48,000 on Instagram, is evoking calls. First there was “Mike Echo”, then the other armies startedwitnesses Dorian, the aviator who helps amuse the 17,000 subscribers of “L’amicale du vent”. We were about two years ago. » The sailors from “Oscar Alpha”, they were 11,000 before migrating to a private group, more discreetly. “We sent memes between colleaguestells one of the four animators, via text message from the boat on which he is deployed. When we saw “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 even more, everyone challenges and provokes each other. The earthlings carry the pilots, who in turn make fun of the sailors. “The goal is to bond”, Dorian thinks. The success of “Mike Echo” is such that the former guinea pig, newly transformed into civilian life, begins to develop derivative products: “Agneugneu lifestyle” patches and stickers, caricaturing a light punk French soldier, flourishing on uniforms, in the barracks and in the bases where the tricolors operate abroad.

We tested the market “, Explains Thomas Reboton. If today he works in a recruitment company, the former soldier hopes to try the adventure of entrepreneurship.

We are in the process of setting up a SAS [société par actions simplifiée]in which we have to inject a few thousand euros. Like everyone else, I want to earn a living and free myself. »

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

Solidarity network

Until then, the sale of accessories and the influence of “Mike Echo” have primarily served to support military aid organizations, such as the Kilo Project or Thirty Days at Sea, which support the physically and mentally injured. The authors – there are a dozen of them to feed the site – also use their visibility to pass on the pots that the families of slain soldiers have set up.

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

“Some guys dare not confide in for fear of jeopardizing their careers. So we try to mediate. »

Asked if housing conditions threaten the Housing Office: The Head of Unit (CDU) strikes!

This support goes even further, to the point that it is sometimes considered “as the force’s unofficial trade unionist”. The term may come as a surprise to a soldier, as the Defense Code continues to ban trade unionism in the French armies. However, it is the one also used by his co-pilot, Dorian: ‘People who are hostile to trade unionism are those who have never had problems. When it happens to you, you realize that you are completely alone. » Today, when they are having difficulty, 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 visited 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 they are being read by their superiors. They use their sharp humor to convey the messages from their community: defense of the bonuses paid to soldiers on maneuvers, advice for better dialogue with the hierarchy, help with rehabilitation …

Internally, they remain cautious and keep this activity secret. No one is seen in a demonstration waving banners and merguez to get concessions from their minister. On the contrary, they are rather preoccupied with a peaceful and respectful dialogue with the institution. Above all, they fight against the lack of information from most of the young people involved. “If the subordinate is too aware of his rights, it is annoying for officers who lose room for maneuver”slips Thomas Reboton.

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

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