Prince Harry on his Afghanistan tour: 'Take a life to save a life'
Published Monday, January 21, 2013 2:50PM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 21, 2013 6:41PM EST
Prince Harry is returning to Britain following a 20-week military tour in Afghanistan where he served as an Apache helicopter gunner, Britain’s Ministry of Defence announced Monday.
Stationed at British base Camp Bastion, in the southern Afghan desert, the 28-year-old prince completed his second deployment in the war-torn middle eastern country.
It was a marked change from his first tour in Afghanistan in 2007-2008, when he was a ground soldier with the Household Cavalry. That tour was ultimately cut short when a magazine published his whereabouts. His security at risk, Harry was sent home early.
This time around, Capt. Wales, as he is known in the military, acted as co-pilot gunner on flight missions.
In newly released footage, the prince, clad in army fatigues, is seen participating in a crew meeting, carrying weaponry, inspecting helicopter aircraft and taking off in an Apache.
In interviews, the third in line for the throne talked about his responsibility on missions in which he killed Taliban fighters.
“Take a life to save a life. That’s what we revolve around, I suppose,” the prince said. “If there’s people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we’ll take them out of the game.”
As a member of the air corps 662 Squadron, the prince’s duties included supporting ground troops in firefights with Taliban insurgents, and accompanying other British and U.S. aircraft carrying wounded soldiers.
In the army, there are no free passes, regardless of who you are, he said.
“We’re a company commander in an aircraft, and there’s decisions that we have to make, snap decisions, that doesn’t always have to be gone to the greenlight by … anyone down here.”
At base camp, Harry was treated as any other soldier. He shared a room with another pilot in basic accommodation quarters and spent his downtime playing video games and watching movies with his peers.
But the prince acknowledged that at a base as large as Bastion, home to thousands of troops, he couldn’t fully shake his royal celebrity.
“For me, it’s not that normal because I go into the cookhouse and everyone has a good old gawp, and that’s one thing that I dislike about being here,” he said. “Because there’s plenty of guys in there that have never met me, therefore look at me as Prince Harry and not as Capt. Wales, which is frustrating.”
Though Harry said he would have preferred to be back on ground patrol at his old base, he said he enjoyed flying.
“As soon as we’re outside the fence, we’re in the thick of it,” he said. “Yes, OK, we’re supposedly safe, but anything can go wrong with this thing, but at the end of the day, we’re out there to provide cover and protection for the guys on the ground.”
A desire to serve on the frontlines may outweigh any reservations or pitfalls that come with the job.
A 2006 graduate of Sandhurst military academy, Harry retrained as a helicopter pilot after his first tour in Afghanistan was cut short.
The danger the prince faced was significant, said Maj. Ali Mack, Harry’s squadron commander.
“There is nothing routine about deploying to an operational theatre – where there is absolutely an insurgency – and flying an attack helicopter in support of both ISAF and Afghan security forces,” Mack said.
Soon after Harry arrived at base camp in September, two U.S. marines were killed and other wounded during an insurgent attack at an adjacent U.S. base.
Harry is known as a wild-card member of the Royal Family, a partying bachelor with a penchant for getting himself in trouble. In the media, Harry is portrayed in stark contrast to his older brother William, who is second in line for the throne.
Shortly before deployment, photos of a naked Harry in a Las Vegas hotel were made public.
He apologized for the incident, but also said there "should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect."
His exact whereabouts Monday were not divulged by the British Ministry of Defence.
With files from The Associated Press