From Las Vegas to Camp Bastion... Prince Harry is back on the front line in Afghanistan, serving with Suffolk-based air crews
Prince Harry has returned to active service in Afghanistan to fly attack helicopters alongside Suffolk-based soldiers from Wattisham Airfield.
The 27-year-old army captain, who previously spent 10 weeks on the front line in 2007/08, will fly missions in Apache aircraft during his four-month deployment.
Having arrived in the early hours of this morning after a troop flight from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, the prince spent his first morning at the main British base of Camp Bastion, checking over the state-of-the-art army helicopter.
He was joined on the flight-line by other members of the 100-strong unit he is posted to – 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps, based at Wattisham, near Ipswich.
After about 10 days of acclimatisation and training to hone his skills, Captain Harry Wales – as he is known in the army – will be ready for operations against the Taliban in his role as co-pilot gunner.
The Queen and Prince of Wales were both fully briefed about his return to the conflict zone, and St James’s Palace said Prince Charles is “immensely proud of his son”.
A St James’s Palace spokesman said: “He’s approached the deployment with a range of emotions like any other soldier and feels both pride and anticipation as he deploys for a job he’s trained for, for so long.
“Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honour to represent his country in Her Majesty’s armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him.”
The deployment means Prince Harry can put the recent controversy of the naked photographs taken in a Las Vegas hotel behind him – for which he was reportedly given a dressing-down by a senior officer.
The third in line to the throne has made no secret of his desire to return to active service, and has spent the past three years changing the direction of his military career from an armoured reconnaissance troop leader to an army helicopter pilot.
He was previously a second lieutenant with the Household Cavalry, for his first deployment to Afghanistan and worked as a forward air controller co-ordinating air strikes on Taliban positions.
That tour of duty was abruptly ended when foreign media broke a news blackout on reporting details of his service.
This time the Ministry of Defence has chosen to confirm this deployment after a threat assessment concluded that acknowledging his presence in Afghanistan would not put the royal or his colleagues at further risk.
Harry was greeted at Camp Bastion by the commander of the Joint Aviation Group, Capt Jock Gordon of the Royal Navy.
He said: “I extend an extremely warm welcome to 662 Squadron, including Captain Wales, who with his previous experience as a forward air controller on operations will be a useful asset to the Joint Aviation Group.
“And working together with his colleagues in the squadron, he will be in a difficult and demanding job, and I ask that he be left to get on with his duties and allowed to focus on delivering support to the coalition troops on the ground.”
Lt Col Tom de la Rue, deputy commander of the Joint Aviation Group and Commanding Officer of 3 Regiment AAC in the UK, said: “Captain Wales is a serving soldier and a qualified Apache pilot having completed the Apache Conversion to Role (CTR) course earlier this year. As such, and after further flying experience, he has deployed along with the rest of the squadron as part of a long-planned and scheduled deployment to provide support to ISAF and Afghan forces operating in Helmand.
“It is a demanding job for my soldiers and all of them, including Captain Wales, are now focusing on the job in hand. I have every confidence that the team will deliver what is asked of them.”
Prince Harry’s return to frontline duty comes after 18 months of rigorous training, both in the UK and the US, after which he won a prize as the best Apache co-pilot gunner when he qualified in February.
He will fly various types of mission while stationed in Afghanistan, from escorting RAF Chinook helicopters carrying troops or equipment to targeting Taliban fighters who have attacked ground troops.
As an Apache gunner, he will operate its complex armoury of wing-mounted aerial rockets, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and a 30mm chain gun positioned directly under his seat.
Last year, Prince Harry suggested it would be pointless to undertake costly helicopter training if he never went into combat.
“You become a very expensive asset, the training’s very expensive and they wouldn’t have me doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I count myself very, very lucky to have the chance to fly helicopters, and even luckier to have the chance to fly the Apache.
“It’s a fantastic piece of kit, it’s like flying a robot.”