“People recognize me in the street, they call me out, they ask me for photos”, laughs Gérald Michiara, sports officer at the first foreign regiment in Aubagne (Bouches-du-Rhône) a few days before the military parade. of July 14 in Paris on the sidelines of which he will animate an obstacle course at the Invalides.

For three years, the videos of this officer of “almost 50 years” all in muscles and as comfortable in front of the camera as on a rowing machine or in front of a punching bag, have met with great success online.

How to climb a rope, pull-up training, obstacle course, nautical course… devoid of frills, these tutorials have been viewed between 100,000 and 900,000 times on the Foreign Legion’s Youtube channel.

Still confidential in 2019, the latter went from “24,000 to 175,000” subscribers, apparently conquered by this high-level athlete – former kickboxing champion – and committed soldier who served in particular in Djibouti.

– Recruitment challenge –

The peak – more than two million views – was reached with a video broadcast in February 2021 devoted to the commitment within the Foreign Legion, a unit counting some 9,000 men of 150 nationalities and often on the front line in operations at home. army alien.

Because behind the tutorials, intended to reach a wide audience – some videos are also subtitled in English – the challenge of recruitment is never far away – if not central.

“The objective of the videos was to energize the Youtube channel of the Legion and to generate recruitment, it has been fulfilled”, estimates the major, who readily admits that he is “not very internet” at the base.

“When candidates sign up, there is a form to fill out and they must say how they came to know the Legion. Last year, eight out of ten candidates answered Major Gérald”.

For this native of Biarritz, from a military family, the videos have above all made it possible to return “a more accessible image of the Legion, far from the idea that one could have, that of a very closed world” .

Alongside the tutorials, the legionnaire, who does not hesitate to drop the undershirt, also makes appearances in other videos, in particular that of the Karate Bushido magazine, specializing in martial arts and combat sports and which will devote him its front page in January 2021.

At the command of the foreign legion, it is difficult to hide their satisfaction with this set of spotlights trained on the elite unit.

“We have seen a boom in our subscribers and we have noticed that people who come to our page regularly ask questions about recruitment,” notes Captain Cédric Sabadotto, of the Legion’s outreach and heritage division.

“We also realized that it was a bonus in terms of education: the recruits first sought to train according to what Major Gérald proposed before coming to join the Foreign Legion. , it saves time in terms of training,” he adds.

The French military’s use of social media to attract new recruits is far from new and now dates back more than a decade.

But “the challenge is more to maintain the breeding ground than to straighten it out”, tempers Bénédicte Chéron, historian specializing in defense issues. “This type of means of communication makes it possible to maintain the breeding ground exactly as the spots on television or the posters in the streets did in the 2000s”.

“What causes the size of the pool to fluctuate, however, is more news that directly affects people, for example the 2015 attacks in France”, which were followed by a boom in army applications, adds- she.

On July 14, “Major Gérald” will not parade on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées but will be present in the moat of the Invalides. On the program: an obstacle course, broadcast live on Facebook and Youtube and whose places were “torn off” like hot cakes.

And after ? Does the legionnaire ever consider hanging up the mic and logging out of Youtube? If so, should we deduce that there is no age to represent the legion? “If you say so!”, he kicks in touch, laughing. “As long as it works, we will continue.”