Prince Harry is known for many things: his mischievous antics, charity work, and marriage to American actress Meghan Markle.
But beyond the tabloid fodder, Harry dedicated himself to a distinguished 10-year career in the British Army. His service included two tours in Afghanistan and rising to the rank of Captain.
Prince Harry’s military service
Harry’s military career was not handed to him. He worked diligently to pass the rigorous entry requirements and never expected special treatment because of his royal status.
In fact, Harry’s desire to serve came from wanting to have a sense of purpose and escape constant media scrutiny.
Training and early career
Prince Harry first enrolled in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in May 2005. The intense 44-week training course involved both demanding physical exercises and classroom learning.
Harry excelled, passing out as a Second Lieutenant in April 2006.
After Sandhurst, Harry joined the Household Cavalry’s Blues and Royals regiment.
He spent the next several months training to operate the Blues and Royals’ Scimitar reconnaissance vehicles. By 2007, Harry was responsible for commanding 11 troops and four Scimitar vehicles.
Harry trained for a deployment to Iraq in 2006. But due to threats against his safety, made by terrorist leaders like Osama bin Laden, the Ministry of Defence decided conditions were too dangerous.
They reversed the decision to send Harry to Iraq just weeks before his unit was set to be deployed. Harry was reportedly unhappy about being held back while his regiment went on without him.
First tour in Afghanistan
Harry got his first taste of combat in late 2007 when he was secretly deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
His presence was kept quiet by British media outlets in order to protect the safety of Harry and his regiment.
As a forward air controller, Harry coordinated air strikes from the ground. He directed fighter jets to enemy targets, playing a crucial role in the British Army’s combat operations.
Harry also patrolled through Taliban strongholds on foot and fired on insurgents who attacked British outposts.
After 10 weeks, the news leaked about Harry’s presence in Afghanistan. Once the secret was out, the Army had no choice but to withdraw Harry from the front lines.
He had been scheduled to serve a four-month tour, but it was cut short by the security concerns.
Continued training and promotions
Following his deployment to Afghanistan, Harry returned to the UK but remained committed to his military service. In 2008, he was promoted to Lieutenant in the Blues and Royals.
The next year, Harry passed the Army Air Corps’ pilot course and began extensive training to fly Apache attack helicopters.
Mastering the Apache was one of the biggest challenges in Harry’s military career. But by 2012 he was qualified as an Apache pilot and promoted to Captain in recognition of his skills.
“Harry is genuinely shaping up to be one of the best young Apache pilots this country has ever seen,” said one British military insider at the time.
Second Tour of duty in Afghanistan
In September 2012, Captain Wales returned to Afghanistan for his second tour of duty. This time he was deployed as an Apache helicopter co-pilot and gunner.
Flying Apache missions required tremendous concentration and precision.
As Harry once explained, “With my thumbs, I like to think I’m probably quite useful…You can ask the guys I thrash in FIFA all the time.”
Harry flew dangerous combat operations and provided vital air support for troops on the ground. He completed a four-month tour, without sustaining any injuries despite the ever-present risks.
Later service and retirement
Following Afghanistan, Harry focused on helping injured service members through organizations like the Invictus Games. However, he remained an active member of the Army Air Corps until 2015.
That year, after a decade of distinguished service, Prince Harry officially retired from the military. He left as Captain Harry Wales, a decorated veteran with an exemplary military record.
While Harry moved on to new phases in his life, his time in the Army clearly had a tremendous impact.
The training he undertook, lessons he learned, and fellow servicemen he bonded with stay with him.
Harry’s military career will remain a defining chapter in his life story.