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French officer cadet embeds in high-readiness UK regiment

‘Interoperability’ is very much the word of the day during the ongoing NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender, and it’s as current on home soil as it is abroad.

As we approach the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale, French Army Second Lieutenant (2Lt) in training Victor Blouin has just finished a month-long visit to 13 Air Assault Support Regiment Royal Logistic Corps (13 AASR), at Merville Barracks, Colchester.

The 29-year-old is one of several French Officer cadets who embedded within UK regiments earlier this year as part of a cultural exchange, which aimed to both better their English and to foster mutual understanding of both Armies.

Currently a cadet at the École Militaire Interarmes, 2Lt Blouin had previously served eight years with the 515e Régiment du Train (515th Transport Regiment); deploying to Mali and Lebanon and reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant. He will graduate in July at the end of his two-year course.

I think the British and French armies are very similar and able to work together well as close allies. What has been striking has been the level of similarity I have seen, with just little differences. Second Lieutenant Victor Blouin, French Army

He has previously worked with Royal Marines on an amphibious exercise, however this was his first exposure to the British Army.

Of his stay he commented:

“It has been a very interesting experience. I have been hosted by all the different squadrons to understand the Regiment’s role and capabilities - I have seen air despatch, vehicle maintenance, and general supply and transport”.

“I think the British and French armies are very similar and able to work together well as close allies.

"What has been striking has been the level of similarity I have seen, with just little differences. For example in air despatch, soldiers are delivering the same capability using the same processes from the same aircraft.”

He highlighted the British Army’s unique Gurkha capability as a lesson he would take home with him:

“What was particularly different was spending time with 15 Air Assault Support Squadron, who are Gurkhas. They do the same job as the Regiment’s other two support Squadrons, but have a very unique character.

"I was not aware of the Gurkhas before, and it is interesting to see how officers have to learn Nepalese language and culture and adapt how they work with their soldiers. It made me think about my own approach to leadership and management."

13 AASR is responsible for logistics and equipment support to 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is trained and equipped to deploy by parachute, helicopter, and air landing. It is held at very high readiness to respond to international crises. The Regiment exercises regularly to ensure they are prepared, and Blouin went along on one such sortie, saying:

“I took part in a two-week exercise that took us up to Scotland to deliver supplies in a scenario of high intensity warfare, which gave me a good experience of the famous British weather!

“Logistics in the French Army was transitioning towards this style of operations as I started my course and it will be interesting to see how that process has gone when I am posted to a unit, and how it compares with the British way of operating.

The British and French Armies recently worked side-by-side on Exercise Polish Dragon, ferrying NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) across Poland’s 300m-wide Vistula River.

The two forces are bonded by the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF), which draws upon the British and French Armed Forces to field a deployable force with land, air and maritime components. It was founded in 2010, with the signing of the Lancaster House Treaties.

This bond will be further strengthened when the Armies jointly celebrate the 120th anniversary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale.

Signed on April 8, 1904, the Entente Cordiale was an Anglo-French agreement that settled previously controversial matters between the two countries and allowed for diplomatic cooperation against Germany ahead of World War I.

It comes at a poignant moment for bilateral relations, with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron agreeing a joint declaration, which focused heavily on defence and geopolitical matters, in March last year, and Defence Secretary Grant Shapps reiterating the need for interoperability and the CJEF in November.

It appears relations are as strong on the ground as they are on paper, with 2Lt Blouin concluding:

“Everyone has been very friendly and done their best to involve me and help me understand what is happening.”

The Entente Cordiale will be celebrated with a number of events in the UK and France on April 8. It will be followed by further Anglo-French collaboration for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in June.

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