Saturday, 1 March 2008

Briton Prince Harry served with Gurkha Soldiers

But two months into his tour of duty in Helmand, the 28-year-old non-commissioned officer found himself mentoring one of his regiment's youngest officers - Prince Harry.
(photos:Prince Harry sits with a group of Gurkha soldiers after firing a machine gun )
The former tank driver from Bendooragh near Coleraine in Northern Ireland - who holds the rank of Corporal of Horse in the Household Cavalry Regiment - was sent to Afghanistan to work as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) in the autumn.
The crucially important job involves covert aerial surveillance of Taliban positions, co-ordinating planes and helicopters entering his area and - when necessary - calling in airstrikes.
He was initially part of a two-man team, working with a South African captain. But when, having done back-to-back tours in Iraq and Afghanistan without a break, his work partner went home for some leave, Corporal Baxter was told he would be sent a newly trained FAC - Prince Harry. "He's a really down-to-earth person," he said. "To be honest I don’t think anyone thinks of him as third in line to the throne or anything, you just take him at face value as any other Household Cavalry officer."
The prince, 23, was bitterly disappointed last year to be told that plans to send him to Iraq had been cancelled. But, rather than leave the army, the prince retrained as an FAC last summer in order to go to Afghanistan - this time without any advance publicity. The idea was that he would be sent as part of the two-man team attached to his battlegroup headquarters at Forward Operating Base Dwyer in the far south of Helmand.
Harry arrived at the base just before Christmas and quickly hit it off with Corporal Baxter.
They had not previously been close friends but the County Antrim man was well used to seeing the prince around as they are both part of the Household Cavalry - although Harry is in the Blues and Royals unit while Corporal Baxter serves with the Lifeguards.
"His arrival as far as I could tell was kept quite hush hush," Corporal Baxter - who has been in the army nine-and-a-half years and served in Iraq and Kosovo as well as Afghanistan - explained. "A lot of people didn’t know he was coming out but he has fitted in really well.
"Everyone from the Household Cavalry Regiment knows him, has worked with him for about a year or so now. "We are used to having him about so it has not really been any change for us ... it has just been a surprise for those that are attached such as the gunners. "They were initially surprised to see him ... but at the end of the day he is just treated the same as any other officer from the regiment." Although Harry’s work saw him spend hours on end speaking with pilots from many countries over the radio, they knew him only by his call sign Widow Six Seven.
Corporal Baxter was one of the few in on the secret. “The first time he took over the net from his predecessor he was straight in there,” he explained. "He's really confident and sounded like he had been there for quite a considerable amount of time. "He has always got a rapport with the pilots that he’s talking to, I’m sure they would be quite shocked as well if they knew who they were talking to." During long shifts in the battlegroup operations room, it was not long before the two red-heads were sharing jokes and laddish banter.
"He fixed my radio for me so he's a good guy to have on board despite being ginger and Irish,” red-headed Harry affectionately joked. "It's a lethal mix." Despite the reason for the cancellation of the prince’s Iraq tour Corporal Baxter was relaxed about the presence of his high-profile colleague. "To be honest, it is something that I haven't really thought about myself, he’s not out on patrol all the time and it’s a question of whether any of the local nationals out here would recognise him, they don’t have TV, they don’t read newspapers. "If something was (written in the media) back in the UK it might change things. "But I don’t think it could get any more dangerous than what it already is." He added: "I think a lot of people are more happy for him, he was quite disappointed with the fact that he couldn’t get out to Iraq. "For any soldier to be told that they can’t go on tour for whatever reason is quite disappointing and most people are actually just glad to see that he has been able to do the job that he trained to do."

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