Finnish cadet trades pea soup for Armagnac sauce
Matti Hautanen is Finland’s first military exchange student in France
By Minna Nalbantoglu in Garrigues
A tank manned by French soldiers is stopped by rebels at a roadblock. They taunt the French and fire in the air. One of the crowd wants to break the antenna on the vehicle.
Matti Hautanen, a Finnish lieutenant, tries to figure out how the soldiers might manage to move ahead.
"What is your price?" he asks in French.
"Lots of cigarettes, rations!"
The soldiers are training officers’ skills. They are lieutenants at the Monptellier École militaire in France. Portraying the rebels are French paratroopers.
They are practicing for peacekeeping duties. The aim of the exercise is to evacuate nine French civilians who have been captured by the rebels. Although the location is the Garrigues military exercise camp in the south of France, one might easily imagine being in Ivory Coast or the Balkans. The paratroopers play their rebel roles with fervour.
Hautanen, a cadet at Finland’s National Defence University, is spending a year as an exchange student in France. He is the first Finnish cadet to take part in an exchange programme abroad.
An extra flavour provided by the training in France comes from the country’s long experience with difficult situations around the world.
"All trainers here have seen things in other countries that Finnish trainers have not necessarily experienced", Hautanen explains.
For instance, Captain Pierre-Philippe André, the leader of the exercise in Garrigues, was in Ivory Coast in 2004, when thousands of French citizens were evacuated during a flare up of violence there.
Finland also has many soldiers in peacekeeping duties. Currently, Finns and French are working together in Lebanon, Kosovo, and Afghanistan. The departure of the 23-year-old Hautanen to France to study is aimed at improving this cooperation.
"The goal is to gain experience and learn French", he says. Very few Finnish officers speak French.
Hautanen has gained experience in matters such as desert warfare, which came up during a joint exercise with the Foreign Legion in the heat of Djibouti in January. Later there were manoeuvres in desert warfare in Germany and an exercise in the Alps.
Hautanen says that the training is more physically demanding than in Finland. The soldiers are made to run very much. Hautanen has lost ten kilos of weight.
This is not to say that the French Army would not advance on its stomach. The food is excellent.
"It is rather strange that instead of pea soup, we get duck, squid in Armagnac sauce, and hare pate", Hautanen says.
There is a chest at the camp where the soldiers can get soft drinks, beer, and chocolate.
Hautanen, who graduates next year, has won praise from his trainers for his skills. Lieutenant-Colonel Cyrille Youchtchenko, who trains the lieutenants, says that he would be happy to take more Finns into the school.
"Certainly, if all Finnish Lieutenants are like Hautanen."
Captain André says that learning cuts both ways.
"The French are learning precision and clam behaviour from Matti, and Matti is learning the skills of a chicken thief who can get through any number of situations."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 19.3.2007
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MINNA NALBANTOGLU / Helsingin Sanomat