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Prince, celebrity, soldier: Harry's military career is a difficult balancing act

Prince, celebrity, soldier: Harry's military career is a difficult balancing act

Prince Harry wanted to be "one of the lads," an ordinary soldier sharing risk and hardship with his men. He got his wish _ for 10 weeks.
Hours after the closely guarded secret of his Afghan deployment became public through the Internet, defense chiefs announced Friday they were withdrawing the prince from the combat zone. The combination of Harry's celebrity status, an insatiable media and an age of instant communication makes it unlikely the prince _ or anyone else with a similar profile _ will serve on the front line again.
"We live in a crazed celebrity-reporting world," said Adam Holloway, a Conservative Party lawmaker who sits on the British parliament's defense committee. "It's pretty miraculous that he managed 10 weeks."
Harry is expected back in Britain in the coming days.
The Ministry of Defense said Friday that worldwide media coverage of Harry's posting had placed him and his fellow soldiers at risk, and he would be withdrawn immediately.
The ministry said that while Harry had been due to return "in a matter of weeks ... the situation has now clearly changed."
Officials would not comment on Harry's exact whereabouts.
Harry's deployment had gone undisclosed under an agreement between the Ministry of Defense and major news organizations designed to protect the prince and his comrades. In return for respecting the embargo, media outlets got a series of pooled interviews, photos and video images of the prince intended to be used on his return.
The material was released Thursday after the story leaked out.
The abrupt end to his deployment is a setback for third in line to the throne Harry, who has spoken of his desire to be an ordinary soldier. Unlike his older brother William, who is also in the army but whose future military role as monarch will be largely ceremonial, 23-year-old Harry sees the military as a long-term career.
In a 2006 interview, Harry said he would not have gone through the rigors of officer training at Sandhurst military academy only to "sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country."
But balancing the prince's desire to do his duty with the security of his comrades _ and the demands of a ravenous media _ has not been easy.
Harry joked in Afghanistan that he was a "bullet magnet," a prized target for insurgents. A plan to send him to Iraq last year was canceled after British intelligence learned of threats by militants to kill him. The head of the army, Gen. Richard Dannatt, said at the time that intense media coverage of the planned deployment had made the situation worse.
When he's not fighting the Taliban, Harry is stalked by the press. His frequent boozy trips to London nightclubs, his occasional gaffes _ like the Nazi uniform worn to a costume party _ are captured by paparazzi and beamed around the world.
Celebrities have served in the military before. In World War II, movie stars including David Niven and James Stewart saw front-line action. Elvis Presley spent two years in the U.S. Army after being drafted in 1958 at the height of his fame.
Many of Harry's royal forebears have also seen combat _ most recently his uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. Harry's grandfather Prince Philip served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.
In those days, a combination of deference, military censorship and slower-moving technology helped keep details of military operations under wraps.
Now, stories can circle the world in an instant. The news of Harry's deployment was first reported last month, in the Australian women's magazine New Idea. At the time, the news did not spread. But when high-profile U.S. political blogger Matt Drudge put the news on his Drudge Report Web site Thursday, the dam burst. Within hours, every major news organization in the world was running the story.
Military officials will not comment on future deployments for the prince. Analysts said the media's cooperation would almost certainly be needed if he were sent into battle again _ and as the Drudge leak shows, even that is not enough to stop news getting out.
Society of Editors director Bob Satchwell, who helped broker the media deal, said the arrangement should not be looked at as a precedent.
"But on the other hand, you should never say never," he said. "It worked for a significant time and it allowed Prince Harry to be deployed."
Although it ended prematurely, military analysts said Harry's deployment would help his army career by allowing him to hold his head high among his comrades.
"It will set him apart from the people who haven't been on active service," said Charles Heyman, author of guidebooks to the British military. "That's the most important thing for a soldier."
Harry's work in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand Province involved calling in airstrikes on Taliban positions as well as going out on foot patrols. He spent part of his deployment at a base 500 yards (meters) from Taliban positions.
Conditions were primitive and dangerous, but Harry said the posting offered him a rare sort of freedom.
"I think this is about as normal as I'm ever going to get," Harry said while serving at a dusty outpost named Forward Operating Base Delhi.
"It's bizarre," he reflected, "I'm out here now, haven't really had a shower for four days, haven't washed my clothes for a week and everything seems completely normal.
"It's nice just to be here with all the guys and just mucking in as one of the lads."


Updated : 2021-08-02 00:21 GMT+08:00