Harry’s Way

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The end of Prince Harry’s four month tour of duty in Afghanistan was marked by the broadcasting of a series of short interviews. The media blackout whilst Harry was on active service as an Apache Helicopter gunner had been for security reasons. The media had been allowed to interview him during the deployment so long as they did not broadcast prior to his leaving the country. Harry’s first deployment in 2007/2008 had been as part of a two-man Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) team in the south of Helmand Province. When the news of his deployment was leaked via the internet?based Drudge Report security fears were raised for both Harry and those serving alongside him. It led to his deployment being cut short, much to Harry’s dismay. The Prince’s second deployment opened with a Taliban attack on Camp Bastion, which they claimed was directly targetting Harry. Nineteen Taliban attackers posing as farmers but armed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and automatic weapons were able to breach the security cordon of Camp Bastion. Two U.S Marines were killed and five aircraft damaged or destroyed. The attackers paid a heavy price for their boldness with eighteen dead and the sole survivor captured. Security therefore had to be a paramount concern at all times, hence the media blackout. But there seem to have been few restrictions placed on the media when it came to eliciting Harry’s view on his military career, the complications of being a royal in the spotlight and his views on the media. The result was a snapshot of the twenty-eight year-old Prince as a military man for whom fighting on the front line is the highest form of service. And Harry being the forthright character that he is the result was candid and, at times, controversial. Any thoughts that Harry’s deployment is anything other than active service were dispelled when, whilst being interviewed, he abruptly got up and ran to join his Apache crew in what seemed to be an emergency call. A vivid example that Harry was given no special treatment at all during his tour. He worked, rested, ate and slept in the same conditions as the other pilots in his squadron. If the choice had been Harry’s he would have taken even greater risk and fought with the troops: “My choice would have been back out on the ground with my regiment – that sounds quite spoilt when I’m standing in front of this [helicopter], £45 million worth, but hopefully my friends and family back home know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Harry’s views on the nature of war were not finessed at all: “We fire when we have to, take a life to save a life . . . That’s what we revolve around, I suppose. If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game, I suppose.” Bluntly expressed as they were, Harry’s words led to a good deal of criticism. Although he also made it clear killing the insurgents was not the aim: “It’s not the reason I decided to do this job. The reason to do this job was to get back out here and carry on with a job . . . It used to be very much front seat, you’re firing the whole time . . . but essentially we’re more of a deterrent than anything else. We’re a hugely reliable asset and the main thing for us is the tricky escorts. If guys get injured, we come straight into the overhead, box off any possibility of an insurgent attack because they look at us and just go, ‘Right, that’s an unfair fight, we’re not going to go near them’. But occasionally we get taken on, the guys get taken on, even when we’re in the overhead. It’s a pretty complex job for everybody involved. But it’s not just about the shooting, it’s about giving the effect to the [enemy]guys on the ground, and that’s not always pulling the trigger.” But Harry slipped up when he compared his skills as an Apache pilot to playing video games: “I’m one of those people who loves playing PlayStation and Xbox, so with my thumbs I like to think I’m probably quite useful.” Flippant and insensitive was the criticism and the Taliban saw it as an opportunity for a PR offensive. A spokesman going by the name of Zabiullah Mujahid said: “I don’t believe that he participated in the fighting. Maybe he has seen the Mujahedin in a movie, but that’s it. I think he has a mental problem, that’s why he is saying it is a game. These kind of people live like diplomats in Afghanistan, they can’t risk themselves by standing against the Mujahedin.” The criticism that followed in the media seemed to have had an effect as a few days later, on his return to Britain, Harry discussed the army’s role in a more reflective way: “We are supporting the Afghan people, we are supporting the Afghan army. That’s as simple as that really. You get asked to do things that you’d expect to do wearing this uniform. There’s nothing normal about what we’ve been doing for the last four and a half months. There’s nothing normal about what’s going on out there . . . Christ, in the last day I was there a seven year-old girl got shot down by the insurgents. So, you know, normality is a very, very ambiguous thing.” In the heat of battle Harry’s views were no doubt coloured by the them and us circumstances war brings and the highly charged atmosphere in the unpredictable Afghan conflict. Nonetheless, everyone from the MOD to the Palace would have preferred the latter to have been his only reported comments on the matter. What Harry lacks in finesse he makes up for with honesty and loyalty, and his pride in his fellow soldiers is always to the fore: “I enjoy the guys that I work with and I’ve had a hell of an experience the last four or five months. We together, the guys wearing the uniform, have done a damn good job and everyone deserves the time away with their families. It’s been a good effort.”

Harry’s determination to speak his mind also gave us an interesting insight into his brother’s feelings about being shielded from military service: “Obviously he’d love to be out here and I don’t see why to be honest with you, I don’t see why he couldn’t . . . no-one knows he’s in the cockpit. Yes, he’d get shot at but, you know, if the guys who are doing the same job as us are being shot at on the ground, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us being shot at as well. People back home have issues with that, but we’re not special – the guys out there are. Simple as that.” A soldier first and foremost, so long as the military is his career, Harry’s straightforward approach to life has created a tension. Whilst he would just like to get on with the job at hand he is also a prince: “You’ve got to be able to flick the switch all the time. I think I said a while back there’s three ‘mes,’ as it were. One in the army, one socially – my own private time – and one sort of with the family and stuff like that. So, you know, there is a switch and I flick it when necessary. And I like to think it’s measured and balanced . . . Army comes first, it is my work at the end of the day.” Work may be the priority but Harry has become more philosophical about the lack of privacy he has as a royal and accepts that the media interest will not go away. So, even in far away Afghanistan, he was prepared to talk about the notorious Las Vegas partying episode: “At the end of the day I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down. But at the end of the day I was in a private area and there should have been a certain amount of privacy that one should expect. Back home all my close friends rally round me and were great … but you know it was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army and not enough prince. “I don’t believe there is any such a thing as private life any more. I’m not going to sit here and whinge. Everybody knows about Twitter and the internet and stuff like that. Every single mobile phone has got a camera on it now. You can’t move an inch without someone judging you, and I suppose that’s just the way life goes.” How life will go in the future is an open question. Harry sees it as a matter of duty for family and country: “I will always be here for my grandmother, and whoever needs to send me abroad for whatever reason. I don’t really have any plans. This was my main effort, to get back out to Afghanistan . . . As to how long I’m going to spend in the army, who knows? I will continue to bounce between my army job and the other job . . . I’ve spent six, almost seven years in the army, and I only planned on spending three.” The tension between Harry’s various roles is an ongoing dilemma: “The last thing my brother, myself and also Catherine, the last thing we want to do is spread ourselves too thin across the ground. We want to be able to pack the punch when it’s needed. I’ll still stay patron to the charities that I’ve got. I’ve got the ‘Walking With The Wounded’ South Pole venture coming up. Medically, if I can do that, that’s perfect because I’d love to do it.” Whilst Harry’s ponders his future commitments the return home provided a welcome respite into private life, including a visit to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to congratulate the prospective parents: “Obviously I’m thrilled for both of them. It’s about time. I can’t wait to be an uncle . . . I just only hope that she and him, but mainly Catherine, hopefully she gets the necessary protection to allow her as a mother-to-be to enjoy the privacy . . . I had a chat to them. I didn’t send a letter of congratulation like most of the papers said.” (Extract from Royalty Magazine Vol. 22/11)