Friday, 22 October 2010

“Jumpers” = 1er RCP – Régiment Chasseur Parachutiste – Pamiers

Directions on how to find the camp were not good at all and it was not where I had found it on google map. We asked directions and the second person sent us in the right direction. Although it was an open weekend, there were no posters up to point the way.
After the rain of the previous day (too windy for the helicopters to fly), the sun was shining. It looked like being a nice afternoon.
We parked in the car park just outside the camps boundary fence and walked through the gates, past smartly dressed soldiers from the regiment, who were handing out leaflets about the event.

There was a plane parked on the grass and we strolled around it watching as a boy of around 10 posed in the doorway of the plane, wearing a helmet and a small parachute pack, having his photo taken by one of the soldiers.
There were tents advertising various goods and services, cars, hot tubs, solar panels, bicycles, etc Further on there were stalls selling wines and spirits and the usual farmers market staples such as cheese, james and honey, sweets etc
In the distance small helicopters were taking people up for short rides at around 35 euros a trip. F liked the soldiers uniform trousers, so she asked one of the parachutists if there was somewhere that she could buy a pair. I could see that it was going to be a long afternoon. She was directed to the building housing the stores, I suppose that it would be the equivalent of a NAFFI store. You could buy bottles of regimental wine, a book about the history of the parachute regiments, a book of songs that the regiment sings. There were clothes and although they were in plain view, F accosted the biggest soldier she could find to aid her in her quest for trousers. Alas there were none in her size, they were too long for her she said. The soldier politely told her that his trousers were not for sale.
She had to content herself with a regimental badge key ring.
Back out in the sunshine, she stopped another soldier and asked him what the time was....
Spotting a blonde female parachutiste, F said loudly, Look, there are even women soldiers. Since we had already passed one or two other female soldiers I don’t quite know what her point was.
It took us no time at all to visit all the stalls twice and for F to inform the female soldier manning the territorial army truck, which had all the raffle prizes on display, that the scooter was soon going to be won by her (she had bought 2 tickets during the week). The soldier explained that when F won it, she would not be able to take it away as it would need to be licensed first.

We watched as a string of parachutists jumped out of a helicopter. The first soldier came down very fast, but the others seemed able to zig-zag about the sky at will, even gaining height. Their chutes were very small, presumably as they were not jumping with full kit.
Next came the display and soldiers armed with machine guns and other weapons started to assemble, as did a line of army vehicles, including a tank, a big artillery piece, a military JCB, armoured cars etc,

 Throughout the display, American rock music belted out, Eye of the tiger, the theme from Top Gun are two that I remember.

The regiment is now in training prior to going to Afghanistan in May next year. It will be one of the last regiments to go out and will hand over to Afghan troops at the end of their tour of duty, in December 2011.

Raptor group was on display. About 90 men and associated vehicles and hardware including dogs and their handlers. After their demonstration the public could enter the parade ground and ask the soldiers questions.

It was getting cold but the raffle draw was not for another hour, so we hung about waiting. There were a lot of soldiers there, many from other French parachute regiments and strangely enough the place was crawling with lots of blonde young ladies in very tight jeans. How did they know that I would be there?

There were also lots of soldiers with their wives or girlfriends, pushing tots in baby buggies.
At long last it was 5:15 and the crowd had assembled ready for the draw. It was announced that there would be a 10 minute delay and the crowd murmured its discontent.
I was trying to stave off hypothermia while watching F accost 2 different couples, each of whom were pushing 2 push chairs “Are they twins?”
She also managed to walk backwards into a kerb and I managed to grab hold of her before she hit the ground. Would the bloody draw ever happen?
There must have been about 100 prizes. It was going to take some time, as after 10 minutes we had still only reached the 15 euro off a hair cut prizes.

Gradually, very gradually, the value of the prizes mounted, and we reached the 200 euro mark. This was a box of money off vouchers, and guess what, they read out every last one of the vouchers,. who had donated them, and what they were for. It’s no wonder that people lose it and run amok.
Next prize was also 200 euros worth of vouchers, these vouchers were not all the same as the vouchers in the first box, so guess what........

As the draw progressed, it became obvious that the soldiers had bought a lot of tickets. Quatrieme Companie was winning a lot of prizes. F was not contente, and each time one of them won a prize, her voice got slightly louder as she voiced her opinion that this should not be allowed.

I slowly edged my way backwards and to the side, in case anyone thought that I was with her. J-C had already disappeared off to the loo several times and was having a cigarette in the background somewhere.
Yes it was amazing that with her two tickets, F did not win the scooter, the washing machine, the bike, the large flat screen TV, the 1000 euro oven, or even 10 euros off a hairdo..
It was interesting to see the regiment and to learn a bit about them. They seemed very young, I hope that they all return safely from Afghanistan next year.

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