Nowadays, I think of Harry as a soldier first, and a Royal second. After being on operations in Afghanistan, he will shortly be awarded a medal to say that he has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.
I am pretty sure he really will have the T-shirt too, as most units get one printed up during their tour. I bet Harry is feeling pretty good right now, and so he should. He has been lucky enough to have served as a professional soldier on the front line, and only relatively few ever get that opportunity.
I’m not just talking about the fighting part of operations, although that is no mean feat in itself. I am talking more about a real sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself. I guess, it comes down to a feeling of belonging.
Harry will have sat in the middle of the desert sharing ration pack instant white tea out of the same mug as guys from housing estates from all around the country. He will have picked up a shovel and borrowed someone’s toilet roll to go behind his wagon, just like every one else. It isn’t very royal, but it is very soldier.
It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, rich or poor, you are all soldiers. And you are all in it together. Harry is now part of that tribe that makes the army so special. I know because I have been a soldier myself for 18 years, in both the infantry and the SAS.
My first operational tour as an eighteen year old was in South Armagh. I was excited even before I got there. I was to become a “bayonet” – a real fighting soldier. I too received my first campaign medal to show I had been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. Ours had “University of Crossmaglen” emblazoned across it. Nowadays, I am a regular visitor to the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, (ITCC) in North Yorkshire. All infantry recruits, from the Guards to the Paras, are trained there and it is Europe’s largest military base.
Everytime I visit I see that nothing has changed when it comes to the emotion and excitement of soldiering. Every single recruit I meet there is excited that the battalion they are about to be posted to will be sent on operations. They will actually get to do the very thing they have been training to do every since they joined the Army – fight. I am sure Harry felt that same excitement when he was told he would be deployed to Afghanistan.
I have been to both Afghanistan and Iraq in the last twelve months, and every soldier I’ve ever met there says exactly the same thing: ‘Nightmare tour – but wouldn’t have missed it for anything.’ I bet Harry is now saying the same thing. I don’t think for a moment that this experience will turn Harry into the perfect role model. Like everyone else back from a tour, he will want to get “downtown” and enjoy himself after ops. And why shouldn’t he? He has certainly earned it.
But the big difference now is that next time Harry gets rolled out for a state occasion with his dress uniform on, he will be able to stand alongside any soldier, from any army, with credibility. Like most Royals, he will undoubtedly have a whole array of medals pinned to his chest, but now there is one lump of metal dangling from it that means more than all the rest put together. Because that’s the one that says, “Been there, done that – got the T-shirt.”