The wedding of American actress Megan Markle and Prince Harry is in the books—breaking with tradition in a multitude of ways that are bound to reverberate though Britain and the monarchy for years to come and joining Americans and our British cousins in a more modern way. However, the former tabloid darling is really no stranger to breaking with tradition.
The world-renowned royal is also an Afghanistan combat veteran and chose to pay homage to his unit with his wedding attire by wearing the dress frock of the Household Cavalry’s Blues and Royals, one of the oldest U.K. regiments also known as the “monarch’s trusted guardians.”
Harry was also given his most senior military title back in 2017 when he was named as the Captain General of the British Royal Marines. But rather than wear that higher rank (or going the route of the red jacketed Irish Guards like his older brother during his wedding in 2011), Harry chose to honor the unit that he actually served in combat with. His grandmother, the Queen, gave him special permission to don the dress uniform while still keeping his fiery facial hair.
For British royals, military service is not required. However, it does offer an opportunity to get out from underneath the burning spotlight of fame and paparazzi, something Harry particularly despises given the tragic death of his mother. Harry once joked to reporters at the end of his second tour to Afghanistan in 2013, “You can only fit a certain amount of people in a helicopter, therefore no one can follow us.”
Harry began his 10 year active duty military career at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2005, subjecting him to heightened press attention given the conflicts raging in the middle east. After graduating in April 2006, he became an armored reconnaissance troop leader in the Blues and Royals. Not long afterward it was announced the unit was heading to Iraq. This sparked controversy across Britain both for and against the young prince’s potential for deployment to a combat zone. No royal had served in a combat environment since his uncle Andrew in the Falklands War, but the prince made it clear that he wanted to be there with his mates.
If they said ‘no you can’t go frontline’ then I wouldn’t drag my sorry arse through Sandhurst and I wouldn’t be where I am today. The last thing I want to do is have my soldiers away to Iraq or wherever like that and for me to be held back home.”
Ultimately, Harry would not be allowed to deploy to Iraq with his unit, fearing that his celebrity status might put the rest of his team at unnecessary risk, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t find a way. In June 2007 he was secretly allowed to deploy to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as a forward air controller. When the unit took fire from the Taliban, Harry manned a .50 cal machine gun to help successfully repel the attack. This ginger prince is not afraid of getting his hands dirty and fighting right alongside his fellow Britons. The public back home across the commonwealth had no idea he was even there.
Upon returning to England in May 2008, he entered training as an Apache pilot and turned out to be quite a natural. He returned to Afghanistan for a second time in 2012 as a Captain, Apache pilot, and prize target of the Taliban. The government has never released the number of combat missions he flew but based on interviews given by those who served with him — there were many and he earned every bit of bling he wears on his uniforms.
Leaving active duty service in 2015, the military has never been far from his personal charity work. Harry launched the Invictus Games in 2014 giving wounded veterans a true Olympic-style competitive environment on a global level. He’s also heavily involved with other veteran’s charities such as Walk with the Wounded, and HALO Trust.
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