Prince Harry will spend this Wednesday in the United States where he will join First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in Virginia and Washington DC to promote the upcoming Invictus Games taking place in Orlando, Florida in May 2016.
The day will commence at Fort Belvoir Military Base, where the party will meet wounded servicemen and women currently undergoing recovery and rehabilitation programs. They will tour the state-of-the-art USO Warrior and Family Centre, a facility designed to support wounded, injured or ill veterans, their families and caregivers; and they will view a sporting event similar to one that will feature in next year’s Games. Later, Harry will attend an Invictus board meeting and reception, where he will meet those involved in organising the Games in the US before returning to London that night.
It’s a long way to travel for a single day of engagements, but Prince Harry, a former serving officer, is devoted to advocating the needs of veterans while also highlighting the positive impact of Invictus, an international adaptive sporting event for wounded servicemen and women. The inaugural Games took place in London in September 2014 and saw over four hundred competitors from thirteen nations compete in nine sports. The brainchild of the Prince, Harry was personally inspired to create Invictus after attending the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in 2013. Though two separate events, the mission is the same: to use the power of sport to inspire recovery and generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.
Prince Harry served ten years in the British Armed Forces, carrying out two tours of duty to Afghanistan during his tenure, before retiring in June of this year. He has witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of life altering injuries, and he has made it his mission to highlight the plight of veterans so often sidelined upon their return from combat. The on-going success of the games also offers Harry an opportunity to emulate his father’s achievements with The Prince’s Trust and his grandfather’s highly respected Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, albeit on a much smaller scale.
With the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, Harry has dropped to fifth in line to the throne, but he remains a prominent member of the royal family. Much like his mother, Diana, he has proved to be a natural with people from all walks of life, and his boyish charm and cheeky sense of humour allow for unexpected, candid moments that have further sealed his worldwide popularity. His aim is to not simply be a ribbon cutting, tree planting, plaque unveiling royal, but rather one who gets stuck into the job at hand.
In 2013 he joined twelve injured servicemen and women from the UK, the US and the Commonwealth on a 200-mile trek to the South Pole on behalf of Walking With The Wounded. Earlier this year he played Wheelchair AFL (Australian football) at a soldier recovery centre in Australia’s Northern Territory, and most recently he joined a six-member injured veteran team in Shropshire, England for a 17-mile stretch of their 1000-mile Walk of Britain expedition.
With no set guidelines or definitive constitutional role for a royal in Harry’s position, it can be very difficult to carve out an identity and leave a positive mark. Prince Andrew proved to be a rather good trade envoy until his less than stellar personal choices led to his downfall. Andrew’s daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, not classed as official working members of the royal family, have each held a number of positions within the civilian workforce, but in recent months have been consistently criticised for spending a little too much time on holiday. It is easy to be dammed either way, but Harry is ever more determined to lend his name to the greater good, and he has chosen his causes wisely.
Last week Harry attended a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral marking the 75th Anniversary of Explosive Ordnance Disposal. While there, he was photographed crouched before wheelchair reliant soldiers who had lost limbs and suffered other life changing injuries as a result of their time in service. It was a simple gesture, but one that proved to the veterans that they remain viable human beings with a relevant role in society.
Often in the US the championing of veterans’ needs is hotly politicised. Celebrities such as Gary Sinise and Mark Wahlberg have fought to raise widespread awareness, but more often than not the welfare of veterans is a cause Hollywood’s elite tends to avoid due to its divisive political connotations. The beauty of a politically neutral royal is that no agenda can be linked to a visit, and so the focus remains on the individuals rather than the politics they may inadvertently represent.
In a 2014 address Prince Harry said, “For me, the 2014 Games were just the beginning of the Invictus story. The competitors showed grit, determination, and humour: an absolute refusal to be beaten or defined by their injuries. I can’t wait to see the American public supporting these inspirational men and women at the next games.”
The Invictus Games were designed to inspire those who have suffered so much, but as Remembrance Sunday and Veteran’s Day approach, the Games also serve as a reminder that perhaps it is those who will be watching from the bleachers who should be truly inspired.
The 2016 Games will mark the beginning of the Invictus story in the US, but their long lasting legacy may offer those competing the happy ending they so justly deserve. For that, Prince Harry should be very proud.