This article originally appeared on VICE France.
I first met the soldiers of the French Army's 3rd Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment in October 2015, during a three-day course on risk awareness in conflict zones. That was right before more than 100 new recruits would be joining the parachute regiment, to be trained over the duration of three months.
When new recruits arrive, their first week is always dedicated to theory classes and more practical tasks: a trip to the hairdresser, getting a medical exam, and vaccinations if needed. When that's all settled, the three-month intensive training starts. During those three months, I followed this generation of new recruits taking part in the training.
Personally, I've always had huge preconceptions about the army. You could even say that I was anti-military. Of course, spending time with the recruits, being a part of their daily lives, and accompanying them in their challenges on the ground, my view of these guys evolved a lot.
I was surprised to see how mature the cadets were. They were cultured and had good heads on their shoulders. Most of them already had some professional experience: one of them was a carpenter, one a fireman, one a waiter, one an art student. Some wanted to join the military because a family member went before them. None of them were there by accident.
During the intensive training, breaks or private moments were rare. There was just enough time to have a shower following a session of pull-ups, push-ups, skipping, and thigh and abs exercises—which the recruits do after sporting activities. They could be woken up in the middle of the night—an hour after the lights go out—for a nocturnal ten-mile march through dense forests and muddy fields.
The new recruits got though it all with camaraderie and a lot of never-ending banter—during and after training. No one was left out.
Every morning, the day began with a cold four-and-a-half mile run or some swimming training in the public pool of Villefranche-de-Rouergue. The pool would be reserved for the recruits before it opened to the public. After, instructors showed them how to conduct searches. They learned to live in the wilderness: Several nights a week, they bivouacked on the edge of the forest, built shelters with branches, and prepared to lay their duvets on the ground for the night.
Every other weekend the cadets could go on leave. Some returned home to their families; others saw their girlfriends or hung out with one another, going to clubs and bars in the area.
During the training, some gave up—due to a lack of motivation or just because of the pace of the army and the state of mind ultimately didn't suit them. Others left because they got injured. But generally, the young recruits were quite proud to be training to be a soldier, to dedicate themselves to playing a crucial role in war and conflicts, to see death as a possibility that comes along with the job.
Denis Meyer is represented by photo agency Hans Lucas.