Since the story of Prince Harry in Afghanistan broke in late February '08, friends and family have asked about service with him. As the lead U.S. adviser in Helmand Province (the "United Kingdom" area of responsibility within Afghanistan), it was almost inevitable that I would see Harry during his tour of duty. However, as events in late December through early January would transpire, we actually lived on the same tiny base in southern Helmand for a couple of weeks. Another time, with other Americans, I served with Harry on the same operation for almost two weeks in Northern Helmand. Throughout, I had the opportunity to get to know the young man Harry as a junior officer under rather difficult and dangerous circumstances. What follows are my observations and thoughts about Prince Harry, third in line to the crown of the United Kingdom and second lieutenant in the Household Calvary Regiment of the British Army.
I first met Prince Harry on Christmas Eve 2007 on a forward outpost facing Taliban lines in southern Helmand. This outpost was manned by Gurkha soldiers operating out of a tiny base about 400 meters to our rear (Note: I had been warned the day before that Harry would be serving at that small base. A British officer had asked that we Americans not disclose this "secret" until after his return to the United Kingdom scheduled in March or April). Harry had arrived at the small base on Christmas Eve and immediately decided to visit some of his men serving on the forward outpost. I was at the position with two other Americans getting a feel for what would be required when we deployed Afghan troops. Harry was in his full "battle rattle," which consisted of body armor, helmet, weapon and ammunition and I could tell that Harry wanted to be treated as any other junior officer and not a prince. Harry was nice when soldiers asked to take a picture with him but made it clear pictures could not be released until he was home. Unlike almost every other day at this outpost, the enemy made no attempt to attack it with direct or indirect fire. Harry went back to the small base and we spent the night on the outpost.
The next day, Christmas, my little party of two other Americans and our interpreter returned to the small base after a long, cold night. We were quite worn out as we came to the operations center to announce our return. At the op center, we again saw Harry. His job at the base was to call in air support missions, bombing Taliban attempting to attack the forward positions. He immediately came up to our little American group to ask how things were going on the position (it was at this point that Harry and I had a picture taken. This was the picture run by The Times and Democrat and The State days after Harry returned to the U.K.). Interestingly, in the British Army officers between the rank of lieutenant and major call each other by their first names. As Harry was a lieutenant and I was a major, I called him Harry and he called me Bill. This might seem normal to most American civilians, but to those in the American military it is quite unique: Officers between different ranks call each other by rank or "sir."
During Christmas Day, Harry stayed busy and kept a low profile while the Gurkhas on camp had austere and makeshift Christmas celebrations. The UK commanding general flew in to the camp for a small period of time and even he had not informed about Harry until just before his helicopter arrived. This was a well kept secret and we agreed that under no circumstance would Americans be the ones to break this story. Despite the money to be made by going to a U.S. newspaper or magazine, all Americans in Helmand honored this agreement.
During the following days, all the officers, including Harry and I, ate our meals together and participated in various meetings. My observation of was that Prince Harry did not expect special treatment. He clearly wanted to do well in his job as junior Army officer and I periodically saw him studying close air support books even during mealtime. Harry liked to talk about funny moments during his training or with his platoon. However, he (and we) stayed off sensitive subjects dealing with the various tabloid issues/rumors: Royal family dealings, etc. We discussed operational strategy in Helmand, coordination between the U.K. and U.S., and interesting events and places. Harry seemed to be very proud of his regiment/unit: The Household Calvary. Specifically, Harry's company of the Blues and Royals has hundreds of years of lineage and he wanted to uphold the traditions he felt were eroding. Like most junior officers, Harry had his opinions of what his superiors could be doing differently.
Harry and I served together on that small base again in early January. During that time, the word was that Harry was doing a great job as air controller. After I left, I didn't see Harry again until an operation in Northern Helmand in late February. This was to be Harry's last mission before the "story" of his deployment broke in the Drudgereport and he was forced to return to the U.K. I have written about this operation in an earlier article, so readers know it was an intense period. Harry was in a supporting role forward air controller. He came up to me between operations at our forward base came and was excited about the success of the operation. Harry's only regret was that he wished he had been able to go farther forward with the Americans.
Regardless of what people may think about dubious episodes in Prince Harry's past, I believe he has earned our respect and gratitude. He could have easily come to Afghanistan and demanded VIP treatment in a safe location. However, Prince Harry served in some of the most dangerous locations possible. I pondered the fact that Harry's service so contrasts with the seeming lack of "Nobless Oblige" among many, though not all, of the children of "elite" families in America. To those whom much has been given, much is expected and the Royal family of the United Kingdom is living out this great ideal. Great job Harry and God's speed in the future.
Bill Connor, an Orangeburg resident and Columbia attorney, is a lieutenant colonel in the South Carolina National Guard. He leads the U.S. advisory effort in one of the four provinces of the Southern Region of Afghanistan.