Currently not in the UK which is why I have been really quiet recently, I’ll get some posts set up in the next few days
Bloody but unbowed — and rebuilt by sport
By Prince Harry (The Sunday Times)
August 10, 2014
Prince Harry was exposed to the full horror of combat on two tours of duty against the Taliban. He reveals how closely he witnessed the suffering of comrades and was so moved that he vowed they would not be forgotten or live without hope.
While in Afghanistan I ferried horribly injured troops to hospital. How, I thought, do you ease their trauma and give new meaning to their shattered lives? Then it hit me: sport. Which is why I have set up the Invictus Games for wounded warriors
In February 2008 I found myself boarding a plane at Kandahar airfield, Afghanistan, that had been delayed due to the loading of a Danish soldier’s coffin. Three of our own were flying back with us, all in induced comas and with different scales of injuries. The plane was bound for the UK: Birmingham (and on to Selly Oak Hospital) for them; Brize Norton for us; and presumably then on to Denmark for the Danish soldier.
Many of us on that flight were relieved to be flying home to loved ones, but this was also when the reality of the conflict hit home. Sure, I’d heard about it, expected it, called in many medical evacuations for it, but I had never seen it first-hand. By “it” I mean the injuries that were being sustained largely due to improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Loss of life is as tragic and devastating as it gets, but to see young lads — much younger than me — wrapped in plastic and missing limbs, with hundreds of tubes coming out of them, was something I never prepared myself for. For me, this is where it all started.
The situation in Afghanistan was very different in 2008 from now, but the medical support was the best in the world and constantly improving. You only have to look at the survival rates to understand what the surgeons, doctors and medics were achieving. It is unbelievable how in 2009, for example, the first quadruple amputee survived from a roadside bomb in Iraq. Quite simply, there are men and women around today that probably shouldn’t be. But they are, thanks to the thousands of volunteer medics, serving doctors, team medics and the resilience of the individuals themselves.
With survival, however, come higher rates of life-changing injuries — whether visible or invisible. They are injuries that the news will forget, injuries that we will all forget as the world moves on to the next conflict or natural disaster. But those limbs will not grow back, friends will not return and many will be left with horrifying images and memories ingrained on their minds. It is hard for any of us to comprehend what these guys have been through.
On my first tour to Afghanistan in 2007-08 and again more so on my second tour in 2012-13, I saw some horrendous things: the tragic injuries and deaths of local people from roadside bombs, some of whom were children; coalition forces lying on the battlefield; and the constant ferrying of injured personnel to the hospital in Camp Bastion. Radioing in the details of their injury to the hospital (which sometimes included the phrase “Op vampire”, when the casualty would need a lot of blood — it still sends shivers down my spine), or lying in bed late at night while our accommodation shook from the downforce of the Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters, was a constant reminder of what was happening all around. See it, smell it, hear it, feel it, there was no escaping it.
Many of us who have been on operations can close our eyes at any point now and hundreds of images will flash through our minds, a visual diary of our experiences. But I really can’t imagine what it must be like to have images of friends — lost or wounded — move across your mind like a bloody slideshow. I witnessed some terrible sights but the image of your mate getting blown up in front of you is an image I am lucky not to have.
There is no comparison to the scale of other conflicts, the Great War for example, and I understand that — but one life is just as important as 10. They were someone’s father, brother, son, daughter, sister, mother. I have often thought: how do you get over that? How do you move on and clear your mind of such painful images? How does someone who has lost a limb find the motivation to move on and avoid being defined by that injury; to be recognised for their achievements, not just given sympathy post-injury?
In May 2012 during a trip to Washington I met a small group of wounded UK servicemen and women who had just come back from competing in the Warrior Games — a Paralympics-style event for wounded, injured and sick service personnel — in Colorado Springs. They had a mixed bag of injuries, some from military operations, others from home. But they all had the same goal: to use sport as part of their rehabilitation process. The idea of being part of a team again, of representing their country and getting to travel to Colorado Springs was the equivalent of dangling a carrot in front of a donkey. Irresistible!
These young men and women shared their stories with me, showed me their medals and grinned from ear to ear. It was then the penny dropped. Sport is surely the best way to support recovery. It ticks all the boxes and fills the void that one misses so much from active service. The premise is simple: set yourself a target, take your mind off all the negative thoughts and concentrate on the challenge in front of you, all while relearning to use your body. We all love a challenge.
In order to test this theory, that sport could play a major role in the pathway to recovery for those injured, we organised a trip to Colorado Springs the following year, in 2013. There I watched 300 US service personnel and 30 from the UK take part in the fourth Warrior Games. The passion, determination, teamwork, resilience, inspiration and just downright fun oozed out of this competition.
I was hooked. It was one of the most incredible and inspiring things I had ever seen. It made me appreciate the simple things in life, the things we take for granted. Some of those competing had been lying in a bed no more than eight months earlier, being told they would never walk again, and now here they were winning medals in front of a community of supporters.
The only problem was that the community was too small: there were only about 400 spectators over the course of the six days. I thought many more people could be inspired by what these men and women had achieved.
I wish I could say we had a lot of detailed discussions among the team about how, or if, we could help to promote a larger version of the Warrior Games, but the reality is that the intention to host an international event the following year was already a commitment in my mind. “We will” host the event in the Olympic Park and “we will” fill those venues and create the most incredible atmosphere for these men and women. The result — the Invictus Games, September 10-14.
Their underlying theme is that while money will help people on one level, what is priceless is providing an opportunity that helps to redefine an individual. Mike Goody, who is hoping to compete in the swimming, said to me: “When I’m in that pool all my worries, all my negativity just disappears. I am at peace swimming side by side with my fellow comrades.”
Sport is an aid to recovery, not an end in itself. These men and women, many in their twenties, have their whole lives ahead of them. If they can’t be a part of the forces any more, they want to move on to meaningful employment outside. Given the grit and determination they have shown to move beyond their injuries, they would be a fantastic addition to any team.
I have seen the whole cycle of injury through conflict: from arriving in Afghanistan with butterflies in my stomach; medevac-ing people after an IED strike; seeing them taken to hospital at Camp Bastion; flying home with them back to Birmingham; meeting them in Selly Oak and Headley Court (special rehabilitation hospitals for wounded military); and finally trying to keep up with a double amputee and blind American veteran on our way to the South Pole. The admiration I have for all these individuals is sky high. Their stories move me, inspire me and humble me — so much so it’s hard to put into words.
For me, the Invictus Games will be an opportunity for us to say thank you to the men and women who have served their country. They see it as a chance to thank all of you for your continued support. They want to put on a show for you. All are in different stages of their rehabilitation, some are Paralympians, others just want to use sport to get their lives back in shape.
They strive for perfection every day, so don’t think for one second that spectators will get anything less than 150% effort from the competitors. Watching the Commonwealth Games reminded me what great things people can achieve when they set their minds to it, so I cannot wait to watch the Invictus Games. For most of these competitors just getting to the start line will have been an almighty challenge. Lives will be changed for the better over a weekend and not just for the competitors — believe me!
Please come and join us — the competitors, their families and thousands of other supporters — to give everyone taking part the atmosphere they so rightly deserve.
Prince Harry adds a ceramic poppy to the ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War on August 5, 2014 in London, England
My fun night resulted in my friend trying to put me on shoulder and dropping me, cracking my front teeth and sent to a&e for chest scans. Need to go to dentist first thing and flights on Tuesday. So upset :(
Hmm I’m gonna be honest I don’t really now any of the Europe ones so I’ll go with Kate, she does have pretty good style!
William, Kate & Harry visit UNICEF at Glasgow 2014, on July 29,2014.
I’m away on Monday and someone who was meant to be my friend who always cancels on me cancelled Friday, yesterday and moved to today said to meet at 7. I stood for half an hour phoning and texting now I’m walking home in tears like a fucking idiot