Prince Harry's time as 'warrior prince' in Helmand
- 21 January 2013
- From the section UK
For the past five months, Harry has been the warrior prince, in Helmand on his second tour of duty with the British Army - but his first as an Apache helicopter pilot and gunner.
He has been flying one of the world's most advanced ground attack helicopters on missions in support of British, Nato and Afghan forces - ready, as he puts it, to "take a life to save a life".
Two clear themes emerge from a series of interviews Prince Harry agreed to give during his latest, and probably last, tour of Afghanistan. They are his genuine love of military life, facing real dangers; and his loathing of the media, in particular the British press.
First, dwelling on the positives, his life in uniform. The prince makes no secret that for him, the Army's more than just a job. Being Captain Wales has also given him a sense of "normality" or, as he puts it, "as normal as it's going to get".
As well as the camaraderie, it has given him a challenge. Not least in persuading those in authority that he should be allowed to return to the front line.
And then there have been the demands of learning to fly the Apache, in which he seems to have excelled. Out in Helmand he has taken the front seat of the two-man cockpit, not just sharing the flying duties, but also taking control of the weapons.
It has been his hands on the trigger of the Apache' Hellfire missiles, the 30mm cannon and rockets, and he leaves no doubt that he has had to use them.
His arrival at Camp Bastion began in dramatic fashion. Insurgents carried out what was clearly a carefully-planned attack on the supposedly secure military base just a few days after he arrived, and on his 28th birthday.
The prince plays down claims in the newspapers back home that it "was all about me". But he still describes it as a "bit of a reality check". And since then danger has never been that far away.
Captain Wales does not give specific details about the missions he has flown. Instead he keeps to their general nature - flying in support of British and Afghan troops on the ground as they come under attack, and then escorting the Chinook or "Tricky" flight sent for emergency medical evacuations.
But he does make clear that he has been involved in the thick of the action and that he has had to resort to the trigger. When asked how it feels he replies: "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." It sounds more like a simple statement of fact than a boast.
But life in Camp Bastion clearly has its downsides. Harry leaves no doubt that he would rather have been out on the ground in a patrol base as he was in 2008, right on the front line, closer to the enemy and the dangers.
Of course, that first deployment ended abruptly after just 10 weeks when the news leaked out. This time the Ministry of Defence acknowledged his presence in part because the risks in the air are not so great.
But being in Bastion means there is less anonymity. Or, as he puts it, more people "to gawp" as he joins the thousands of other military personnel in the camp's massive canteen at mealtimes.
It is a recurring theme. Even in Helmand, thousands of miles from home, he cannot forget the attention he attracts. Being in a warzone has provided a brief respite. But he is still angry about his treatment at the hands at the press, which he says started from an "early age".
Though there are more recent scars too - like that holiday in Las Vegas. He admits he "probably" let himself and the family down when his naked photo first appeared on the internet.
He says it is "probably" a classic example of being too much Army and not enough prince. But he leaves little doubt as to who he thinks bear the ultimate blame: "The way I was treated by them (the media) I don't think is acceptable".
Even the happy news that he will soon become an uncle turns into more of a grumble over how his sister-in-law's pregnancy became public.
And as for his apparent cooperation with the media out in Helmand, it seems to have happened under duress: "I never wanted you guys to be out here."
He says the only reason he co-operated was because of a deal that stopped the media speculating before his deployment.
It is hard to see that attention easing now his deployment is over. Prince Harry says he is not decided how much longer he will stay in the Army.
With all British combat troops due to leave by the end of 2014, he is unlikely to return to Afghanistan. And without the "adrenalin" rush he talks of while on operations, there may be less reason to stay.
However, the prince makes clear that he wants to continue his long association with veterans' charities including Walking With the Wounded, and he hopes to join wounded servicemen on their expedition to the South Pole.
Questions about any plans he may have to settle down are given pretty short shrift. From what the cameras see, and from what he says, the prince is far more relaxed with his comrades in uniform - enjoying the banter and, as he puts it, "thrashing them" on the Playstation.
It seems rather appropriate that his final interview is interrupted with another urgent call out. He prefers going into battle than talking to the press.