As the Invictus Games get closer, it is the perfect time to take a look at the military accomplishments of their creator, Prince Harry of Wales. Following in the footsteps of the men before him and starting his dream career, Prince Harry passed his Regular Commissions Board in September 2004 and entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in May 2005. After completing a 44 week training course, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Household Cavalry (also known as the Blues and Royals) on 12th April 2006.
In order to become an armoured reconnaissance troop leader, Prince Harry reported to The Armour Centre at Bovington in Dorset for the Troop Leaders’ Course in May 2006. This course is divided into two phases, the first being Signals and the second phase focuses on driving, commanding and maintaining a tracked reconnaissance vehicle. After successfully completing both phases, Prince Harry reported to his Regiment in Windsor and was responsible for leading eleven soldiers and four Scimitar tanks.
In 2007, Prince Harry’s Regiment was set to deploy to Southern Iraq and his mission would be to lead a troop of soldiers on reconnaissance missions in Scimitar armoured vehicles. The risks associated with this mission included roadside bombs (known as Improvised Explosive Devices-IEDs), ambushes and kidnapping attempts. While these risks are normal of any reconnaissance mission, they were amplified towards Prince Harry due to his status. After much deliberation, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, decided that Prince Harry would not join the Regiment. One of the reasons behind this decision was that due to the widespread knowledge of Harry’s deployment, elements of the Mahdi army (Shia Militia loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr) made specific threats towards the Prince’s life and those of his fellow soldiers. It was because of this that when Harry was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, it was not published that he was on the front line until a US based website broke a blackout agreement and published his location in the Helmand Province.
Initially, when told of the decision not to allow him to deploy, he considered leaving the service as he would not be able to do his duty as other soldiers do. When he was informed by The Queen that he would deploy in 2008, he said that he felt relieved and he would “finally get the chance to actually do the soldiering I wanted to do from ever since I joined”.
While in Helmand province, Prince Harry (known now as Cornet Wales), worked as a forward air controller (FAC) and was responsible for coordinating air support and aviation across the area, often calling in jets to drop 500 lb (228kg) bombs on enemy positions. Unfortunately, this deployment was cut short, for after the breakdown in media coverage, Harry was recalled home over fears of increased violence towards him and his fellow soldiers.
Following his return from Afghanistan, on 13th April 2008, Harry was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant with The Household Cavalry. In October 2008, it was announced that he would become a helicopter pilot much like his brother, father and uncle. He entered flight training in 2009 at the Defense Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury, joining his brother, Prince William. On 10th March 2011, Prince Harry passed his Apache flying test and was awarded the Apache Flying Badge in April 2011. Two days later he was promoted to Captain.
In preparation for his next deployment, Prince Harry reported to the Naval Air Facility in El Centro, California to complete helicopter gunship training. This two month training included live-fire training and ‘environmental and judgment training’ at military facilities in both California and Arizona. After finishing at the top of his class, Prince Harry returned to Wattisham Flying Station in Suffolk to complete his training.
To avoid the media issues that surrounded Harry’s first deployment, the Ministry of Defence embedded a photographer and reporter in hopes that providing routine information on the Prince would satiate the public’s appetite and allow Harry to complete his duty without a media frenzy. On 7th September 2012, Prince Harry deployed to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan as a member of the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps for a four month rotation.
His duties during the combat tour were a co-pilot and gunner for the Apache helicopter. This was considered an honour, as most pilots are not promoted to gunner immediately. Even though his arrival in Afghanistan was protected, the Taliban released a statement 72 hours after his arrival saying: “We are using all our strength to get rid of him, either by killing or kidnapping. We have informed our commanders in Helmand to do whatever they can to eliminate him.” His position in combat led the Taliban to make other disparaging remarks about him, but nothing deterred Prince Harry from doing his duty, including firing his weapon. He has said that it appeared that his helicopter mostly served as a deterrent to the Taliban fighters on the ground, but he also stated that “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose. Take a life to save a life…the squadron’s been out here. Everyone’s fired a certain amount.”
It was this statement that has defined the next few years of Prince Harry’s time in the military. As officers in the military, to take a life to protect another is a common issue that all have to wrestle with. It is not an easy decision to make and even after the mission is over, and that decision often continues to haunt. To complicate the situation, it is the aftermath of the decision that also haunts you; the visions of wounded and deceased fighters and civilians. This is something that Prince Harry knows all too well. During his time in Afghanistan, Prince Harry regularly flew injured personnel and civilians to a hospital at Camp Bastion.
The Prince recently wrote about his experiences on deployment in the Sunday Times. Harry wrote: “Loss of life is as tragic and devastating as it gets, but to see young lads – much younger than me – wrapped in plastic and missing limbs, with hundreds of tubes coming out of them, was something I never prepared myself for. I saw some horrendous things: the tragic injuries and deaths of local people from roadside bombs, some of whom were children. Coalition forces lying on the battlefield; and the constant ferrying of injured personnel to the hospital in Camp Bastion.”
Prince Harry transitioned to a managerial office-based position in the military in 2014. During this time, he continued to wrestle with the images of war and questioned how he could help other soldiers cope with similar trauma, including those who have lost limbs. After witnessing the success that the US has had with rehabilitating injured troops through sports, Harry created the Invictus Games with the support of The Royal Foundation and the Ministry of Defence. Not only will the Games bring public support and attention to the challenges that soldiers face when returning from war, but it serves to help the soldiers continue to overcome the trauma they have experienced. British Team Captain, Dave Henson, who lost his legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, said: “When I was injured I thought that was it, my life was over. The confidence boost that sport gave me was huge and to be selected as part of the British team for the Invictus Games is a huge honour.”
Prince Harry’s military career is far from over, as he recently stated that he wants to remain a professional soldier “until he can draw his pension”. He continues not only to serve his country as a military officer, but serve his fellow soldiers through official commemorations and supporting such initiatives as the Invictus Games.