May 18, 2007

Should Prince Harry even be in the army?

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Other than tradition, keeping Harry in the British Army makes little sense 

COMMENTARY By Lt. Col. Rick Francona Military analyst MSNBC 

 The British Chief of General Staff announced on Wednesday that Prince Harry, or in this context more properly Lt. Harry Wales, will not deploy to Iraq with his unit, a squadron of the Blues and Royals Regiment. The prince is a reconnaissance troop commander in charge of four Scimitar armored vehicles and 12 soldiers. 

Several months ago, soon after it was announced that the prince’s unit was scheduled for deployment to Iraq, insurgent groups – both Sunni and Shi’a – threatened to kidnap (some threaten to mutilate) the young royal. Harry, to his credit, insisted that he be allowed to serve as any other British officer. 

That’s admirable, but naïve. Harry is not “any other British officer;” he is third in line to the throne of the United Kingdom. The ramifications of him being taken hostage far outweigh his desire to serve. 

The threats go beyond the prince himself. His presence in Iraq would put at risk anyone around him. His unit would be singled out for increased attacks in an attempt to get at him. British forces in Iraq have come under increased attacks in the recent months, and units that use the Scimitar armored vehicle have been attacked repeatedly. The fact that Harry was to command four of these vehicles has been widely reported. It is no secret that if you want to kill or capture the prince, these are the vehicles to hit. 

Given the threats made specifically against the prince and the risk that his presence would be disruptive to the British units in Iraq, removing Prince Harry from the deployment roster was the only decision the Ministry of Defense could make. 

This decision raises a whole host of questions about “the royals” and military service. The British monarchy has a rich history of military service. Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, served as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot in the Falklands War. His grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, trained as a driver during World War II, and his grandfather, Prince Philip, saw combat while serving in the Royal Navy. Harry’s father, the heir apparent to the throne, served for a total of five years in the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. 

Prince Harry/Troop Commander Wales was commissioned in 2006 after attending a year-long course at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. After that, he attended British Army training schools to become a troop commander. He was assigned to the Blues and Royals, he trained and bonded with the men he was to lead. Now those men will either not deploy to Iraq, or they will deploy without their commander and have to re-bond with another officer. 

The British military is small, considered too small by some to meet Britain’s international commitments. Therefore, the British forces must be used effectively. Having an officer that cannot deploy to certain areas complicates planning for commanders. He trains with his unit, but cannot serve with them when needed. 

Another consideration is perception. The British are perceived in the Middle East to have backed down in the face of threats. It sends the wrong message, not only to the insurgents, but possibly to a segment of the British population as well—our sons and daughters can serve, but not Harry? Inside the British forces, he will be regarded as someone who wants to play soldier, but can’t be a soldier. 

I applaud the prince for wanting to serve, for insisting that he deploy to a combat zone, that he be treated as any other British officer. The reality is that he is will never be – maybe “cannot be” is a better phrase – treated like any other officer. It is a factor of genealogy, not honor or integrity. That fact places an unfair burden on his commanders and fellow soldiers, now and in the future. 

Other than tradition, keeping him in the British Army makes little sense. 

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