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The impact of a terrorist attack on a soldier

On July 14, 2016, A truck drove into the crowd during Bastille day taking away 86 people. Caregivers, police, and families were hailed for their courage.

After the attack on the Promenade des Anglais – photo by the interviewee

Tribute to victims on Place Masséna on July 14, 2017. Under a blue, white and red roof, there are politicians, families, health staff and security forces. Valérie (the name has been changed for her security), a soldier in the Air Force was not invited with her uniform, yet she was on the Promenade des Anglais, on the July 14th. “The air force should never have been present” reveals the soldier. The teams were at the Nice airport as part of the sentinel mission. That day was the first day of the 17 days there. “It’s the army that should have been called, but they were already requisitioned on other alerts that were used to divert attention.” The Chief Warrant Officer, accompanied by a lieutenant and fifteen subordinates, was ordered to surrender to the Negresco and arrived fifteen minutes after the incident. “800 meters before the meeting place, we began to see bodies on the ground, members scattered and wounded,” she says bitterly, “we were asked for help, we were insulted because we did not stop, it was very difficult, but we could not, we had the order to go to the Negresco. We went on trying to ignore the insults. We did not even know officially what happened at that time.” The soldier explains that air warriors are not prepared for this, “our mission is to detect parcels or suitcases trapped at the airport“.

Soldiers in front of the Negresco hotel – photo by the interviewee 

Follow orders
Once there, their mission has changed. The air force had to protect around the improvised rescue center in a nightclub. “At first, we were in charge of monitoring a certain perimeter, because we did not know if the terrorist was alone or not. Once we learned there was no one else, we did some filtering. ” This filtering operation seems more difficult for her than the previous ones, especially when it comes to telling it: “We had to forbid families to stay close to the body, it was very complicated especially that in some religions, families should not leave the deceased alone, so we had to find a balance between instructions and the human side: we made the decision to reduce the perimeter of security to allow families to approach.” That day, there was wind. Valérie also took the initiative of laying stones on the sheets that covered the bodies, “I did not want the families around to see that! “.

A soldier setting the security zone on the Promenade des Anglais – photo by the interviewee

The black hole
The intervention of the military called for the sentinel operation lasted up to five hours. The team then chained with the workday that was waiting for him at the airport. The day after the event, psychologists came to listen to those who needed it, the subordinates in priority. Psychologists did not have much time. When they asked the superiors if they wanted to speak, they answered “no“, “we did not think we were traumatized,” said the soldier timidly. Patricia thinks that the follow-up was not done properly, “it’s also my fault, I said I was fine“. The psychologists advised them to stay to finish their mission, that together, they will be able to talk about what they saw, “when we are military, we are afraid to crack and say that we are weak compared to others then we hold“. Valérie held and maybe a little too long. Her mission lasted for six months, every three weeks or so, she left her children for a fortnight. In the field, she did not give too much news, at home, she was shut up. When she finally came back, she said that her children drooled: “I was arguing with my daughter when it never happened, it was as hard for her as for me“. Forced and pushed to see the truth in the face, the military is forced to take a work stoppage. For three months, she stays at home, “I did not do anything, I did not want to do anything, I did not even pick up my kids in high school.” Valérie talks about the “black hole“, she had memory loss and was no longer attentive. This period lasted more than a year.

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