Prince Harry joins British military exercises in California and Arizona
As "Captain Wales," he is flying Apache helicopter gunships
He saw combat in Afghanistan in late 2007 and early 2008
Prince Harry – Capt. Harry Wales, to his mates – is coming to the U.S. Southwest this week to begin a two-month series of training exercises for British attack helicopter pilots.
The Apache crews will train at Naval Air Facility El Centro in California, about 90 miles east of San Diego, officials said.
The prince, 27, also will be training at the Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field in southern Arizona.
It’s part of a two-month series of maneuvers dubbed Exercise Crimson Eagle, in which British fliers will practice with the Apaches in terrain similar to southern Afghanistan, where some British troops are currently based.
Officials stress that Harry is coming as a serviceman, not as a potential heir to the throne.
“We are treating him like any other O3 (junior grade officer),” said Kristopher Haugh, deputy public affairs officer at the El Centro facility.
Still, it’s possible that the prince, like others who train in the area, may frequent area clubs, restaurants, theaters or bowling alleys.
The El Centro Chamber of Commerce has asked businesses and restaurants to treat Harry with respect and safeguard his privacy.
The prince may also be drawn to outdoor diversions. According to Cathy Kennerson, chief executive officer of the Chamber, the area is known for off-roading, hiking, birdwatching and the Salton Sea, also in the agriculture-rich Imperial Valley.
Residents of the city of 42,000 will take the visit in stride, Kennerson said. “They just want to put their best foot forward.”
Harry is the younger son of Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and the late Princess Diana. He served on the front line in Afghanistan as a forward air controller and saw combat, but was withdrawn in February 2008 after news of his deployment broke.
Harry’s brother, Prince William, is also an army officer. But as second in line for the throne, he is specifically barred from combat.
According to the Telegraph in London, Harry intends to return to Afghanistan next year after he completes his training. He has been told by flying instructors he has a “natural flair” for flying, the newspaper reported this summer.