French youngsters solidify their citizenship with Safran

Getting up at 3:00 in the morning to see a rehearsal of the traditional Bastille Day parade in Paris might seem like a long-shot for young people. But 50 youngsters from the Seine-Saint-Denis department near Paris took up this challenge, reflecting their commitment to citizenship. The operation was organized and overseen by Safran employees who are also reserve officers in the French armed forces.

It was barely 5:00 in the morning on Monday, July 2, but nobody had missed the roll call. Seated in one of the official grandstands, just across from where the French President would be sitting, 50 young people from the Seine-Saint-Denis department near Paris (which has a large immigrant population), one-third of them girls, attended the last rehearsal of the traditional July 14 (Bastille Day) military parade at the Place de la Concorde in Paris. As the first rays of the sun began to hit the golden tip of the obelisk, the troops started to march past. While all the youngsters immediately recognized the soldiers from the Foreign Legion, the appearance of "spahis" in their "burnous" (traditional hooded cloak) caused a murmur of surprise.

The creator and leader of this novel operation, dubbed "Let them serve", was reserve captain Nourouddine Abdoulhoussen, a sales manager at Sagem. He explained to his rapt audience, "These are the heirs to the first French regiments made up of soldiers from North Afraica." Just as he finished his explanation, the first notes of La Marseilleise could be heard, and all the young people stood up as one to sing the national anthem of France.

"This is an unrivaled opportunity to see such a big event; by taking part, I feel more French," said Gossi, who is now in his junior year of high school after earning a vocational degree as an electrician. Bilel, a 15 year old high school student, added: "It's our army, and they're the ones who will defend the country. When I see them march past, I feel that I am above all French."

Reactions were so positive that certain career plans seen to have taken root. Dahbia, who holds a vocational high school degree in security and prevention, said that he was attracted by the armed forces. "I like action, and after seeing this today, I'm thinking very seriously about starting preparations for a military career."

Baudoin Albanel, military advisor to Safran CEO Jean-Paul Herteman, and general in the second section, is also the defense rapporteur for the Safran group within the scope of the partnership agreement concerning reserve officers, signed in 2006 by Safran and the French Ministry of Defense. At the Bastille Day rehearsal, he was the Safran's liaison for the young people from Seine-Saint-Denis. According to Baudoin Albanel, the operation met its objective. "Corporate citizenship and solidarity are core values at Safran. By organizing their attendance at this traditional parade, we have helped reinforce republican values among these youngsters."

Nourouddine Abdoulhoussen also believes that it will set an example that resonates in the future. "Looking ahead, these young people will have the energy needed to get up at 4:00 in the morning when they're looking for work."

At 6:30 am, with the festivities drawing to a close, a storm suddenly broke out after two solid weeks of a heat wave in Paris. The final item on the agenda, a friendly meeting between the military authorities at the rehearsal and the 50 young people, had to be shortened. But despite the rain, everybody left with a smile on their lips.