Prince Harry has revealed how he is haunted by some of the horrendous sights he witnessed during his two tours of duty to Afghanistan.
Harry, who was a helicopter pilot in the British Army until earlier this year, says he can close his eyes and “hundreds of images” will flash through his mind – among them visions of children terribly injured by roadside bombs and severely wounded soldiers.
Harry’s job in Afghanistan included flying injured service people and local civilians to hospital, and he saw some sights that will stay with him forever – and which were much more shocking than he was expecting.
“Loss of life is as tragic and devastating as it gets, but to see young lads – much younger than me – wrapped in plastic and missing limbs, with hundreds of tubes coming out of them, was something I never prepared myself for,” he wrote in an article for the Sunday Times newspaper.
“I had never seen it first-hand. By ‘it’, I mean the injuries that were being sustained largely due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Many of us who have been on operations can close our eyes at any point now and hundreds of images will flash through our minds, a visual diary of experiences.”
Harry says he still gets shivers down his spine when he recalls how he‘d use the code “Op Vampire” to let the medical team know the casualty they had on board would require a lot of blood. He also remembers how he spent nights lying in bed as the walls of his room at Camp Bastion shook with gunfire.
Something good has come out of the distressing sights he saw, though – his Afghanistan experiences have inspired him to set up a sporting event, the Invictus Games, for servicemen and women who have been injured in conflict. Harry says the event will be a chance to thank those who have served their country, and let them experience a “rousing atmosphere”.
The Invictus Games are not the first time Harry has lent his support to the cause of injured service personnel. In December last year, he and several other well-known people joined 12 wounded former soldiers from the United Kingdom, United States and the Commonwealth on the 320km Walking With The Wounded expedition to the South Pole.
He has also been involved with charity Help for Heroes, which runs a support network for people who’ve suffered a variety of injuries while serving in the armed forces.
Harry says the full horror of war struck him when he was returning to the UK after his first tour of duty to Afghanistan in 2008. He was flying home, unhurt, to his loved ones, while on the same flight were three severely injured British soldiers and a coffin containing the body of a Danish serviceman. That was when the impact of what war can do really hit home, says Harry, who returned to Afghanistan for his second stint in 2012-2013.
Harry left his role as a helicopter pilot for a desk job in London, where his responsibilities include organising army input into ceremonies like the Trooping the Colour. Despite the fact he’s no longer seeing active service, he still enjoys his work.
While talking to a group of people at an official event about being in the army, he said, “I love it – it’s the best job in the world. I’m staying in until I can draw my pension – if they’ll let me.”
In the past, Harry has admitted he has to juggle the “three mes” in his life: “One in the army, one socially in my own private time and then one with the family and stuff like that. So there is a switch and I flick it when necessary.”
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