Prince Harry at a 2009 charity match at , London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 8, 2012 - Great Britain's Prince Henry of Wales, commonly known as Prince Harry, urged the U.S. and British publics last night to unify in supporting wounded warriors and families of the fallen, particularly as the drawdown of military operations in Afghanistan takes the media spotlight off their continuing needs.
Prince Harry accepted the Atlantic Council's Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award for charitable work he and his brother, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, conduct for wounded British service members and veterans. He also urged closer cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom in providing their countries' veterans and families long-term support.
"So many lives have been lost and so many changed forever by the wounds that they have suffered," the prince told a black-tie gathering of almost 900 former and current administration officials, members of Congress, ambassadors and business leaders at last night's annual awards dinner.
"They have paid a terrible price to keep us safe and free," he continued. "The very least we owe them is to make sure that they and their brave families have everything they need through the darkest days and in time, regain the hope and confidence to flourish again."
Prince Harry acknowledged that difficult times endure long after the battlefield. "For these selfless people, it is after the guns have fallen silent, the din of battle quietened, that the real fight begins a fight that may last for the rest of their lives," he said. "We must be there for our servicemen and women and their families, standing shoulder to shoulder with them always."
It's a fight he said will continue long after coalition forces withdraw from Afghanistan and with them, media coverage. "They will no longer be at the forefront of our minds," he acknowledged. "But the injuries left from a 7.62 bullet, an [improvised explosive device], watching a fellow comrade injured or killed these are experiences that remain with you for life, both physically and mentally."
He called on the United States and Great Britain to remain united, as they have throughout operations in Afghanistan, in supporting their needs.
"British and American forces train together, fight together and tragically, some are wounded and some die together," "It makes perfect sense to me, therefore, that we should, whenever possible and appropriate, work together by pooling our expertise and experience to heal and support the wounded veterans of both our nations truly, brothers- and sisters-in-arms."
A British army captain who served in Afghanistan, Prince Harry called it "truly humbling and a little bit terrifying" to be introduced at last night's dinner by former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell.
Powell joked about the paparazzi and fans who gathered around the hotel that hosted last night's dinner to catch a glimpse of British royalty, and the unprecedented number of young, single women in attendance.
Turning serious, he recognized Prince Harry for forfeiting a far easier life to dedicate himself to serving others, including his military service as an Apache helicopter pilot.
Harry accepted the Atlantic Council's prestigious Distinguished Humanitarian Leadership Award on behalf of his brother, William, and the Foundation they both run for wounded warriors, veterans and military families and "all those on both sides of the Atlantic who work so tirelessly to support our wounded veterans."
"We have tried to do what we can to ensure that servicemen and women and their families leave the military with purpose, with hope and with confidence," he told the gathering. "Whether in their working environments or in the wider community, these fine people examples to us all have an invaluable contribution to make."
It is especially for them that Harry said he accepted last night's honors. "This is their award," he said.
Harry visited wounded British and U.S. service members who participated in this year's Warrior Games competition earlier yesterday at the British embassy. The Warrior Games, which wrapped up May 5 in Colorado Springs, Colo., included 200 wounded service members and veterans.
The prince recognized the extraordinary achievements other wounded warriors have made and noted that last year he struggled to keep up with four British soldiers who, despite being gravely wounded in Afghanistan, became the fastest team to trek the North Pole that season.
Another team of wounded troops are returning from Mount Everest where dangerous conditions created by unseasonably warm weather deterred their attempt to reach the summit. "The mere fact that they are up there on that fearsome peak, I find totally amazing," he said.
"These people ours and yours are extraordinary," he concluded.