Prince Harry's Squadron To Go to Iraq
Friday, February 23, 2007
LONDON, Feb. 22 -- Prince Harry is going to war.
Sometime this year, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana will be deployed to Iraq as the first royal family soldier to serve in a war zone in 25 years. Now known officially as Cornet Wales, a rank equivalent to second lieutenant, the ruby-cheeked prince will serve in Iraq for six months commanding a squadron of 12 men in four Scimitar armored reconnaissance vehicles.
Speculation about whether Harry, 22, would see combat had been percolating since he entered Sandhurst military academy in May 2005 but was put to rest Thursday in a statement from Defense Secretary Des Browne. Harry's elite Blues and Royals regiment is part of a restructuring plan announced Wednesday by Prime Minister Tony Blair, in which British forces in Iraq will be reduced from 7,100 troops to 5,500 in the coming months.
Britain has been divided about whether Harry, third in line to the throne behind his father and his brother, Prince William, should be sent into combat. Some have seen it as a needless risk and argued that a royal might be a prized target for insurgents, potentially putting his fellow soldiers at greater risk. Others have noted that the royal family has a long history of military service and that potential world leaders could do worse than testing their mettle by serving their nation under fire.
"He's obviously a very gutsy kid, and I'm sure he's insisted on going," said William Shawcross, a noted author and broadcaster who has written a biography of Harry's great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. "I expect his father is very worried about it, but it's a good thing. I think the queen will be proud of him."
Florence Grayson, a student walking along a sidewalk in west London, said Harry ought to stay on safer shores.
"I don't think he should go," she said. "It would be a huge trauma to William and to the country if he dies. We need our two kings."
For his part, Harry is on record demanding not to be treated like some china doll prince. He has reportedly threatened to quit the army if not allowed to eat Iraqi dust alongside his mates.
"There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country," Harry said in a rare, often-quoted and charmingly off-color interview marking his 21st birthday in 2005. "That may sound very patriotic, but it's true."
In that interview, the free-spirited son of one of the world's most famous and beloved women said he envisioned a long military career: "I do enjoy running down a ditch full of mud, firing bullets. It's the way I am. I love it."
Officials at Clarence House, Prince Charles's office, declined to release details of exactly where and how Harry would serve in Iraq because it would be "potentially dangerous." They said it was Harry's "express wish" to "undertake a normal tour of duty" in a country where more than 130 British soldiers have been killed. Like the United States, Britain has a volunteer army.
The BBC quoted a source in the Blues and Royals saying that Harry was "over the moon" with delight about his deployment.