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Be inspired by Invictus Games, Harry tells silent, suffering veterans

Published 09/05/2016

Prince Harry watches the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida
Prince Harry watches the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida
UK team captain David Wiseman, front left, and minister for defence personnel and veterans Mark Lancaster pose at Gatwick Airport with the UK team heading for the Invictus Games

Prince Harry has called on military veterans and civilians who may be suffering in silence from mental illness to be inspired by the Invictus Games and seek the help they need.

Harry's words of support came as he officially launched the Orlando games during an opening ceremony full of razzamataz and military pomp.

The spectacular show was billed by the Prince as a tribute to the "remarkable" injured servicemen and women and veterans from 14 countries who will go head to head in a range of sports over the next four days.

US first lady Michelle Obama and former US president George Bush, both long-term supporters of America's military veterans, joined Harry, as did Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, in the audience of thousands which filled the champion stadium at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, home to the games.

The Prince has been the driving force behind the Invictus Games for injured, wounded and sick servicemen and women and veterans and staged the inaugural event in London to great acclaim in 2014.

In his speech to the spectators Harry said: "It is not just physical injuries that our Invictus competitors have overcome.

"Every single one of them will have confronted tremendous emotional and mental challenges. When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let's also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn't leave his house.

"Let's cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress and let's celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression.

"Over the next four days you will get to know these amazing competitors. They weren't too tough to admit that they struggled with their mental health, and they weren't too tough to get the help they needed.

"To those of you watching at home and who are suffering from mental illness in silence - whether a veteran or a civilian, a mum or a dad, a teenager or a grandparent - I hope you see the bravery of our Invictus champions who have confronted invisible injuries, and I hope you are inspired to ask for the help that you need."

Earlier in the day Mr Bush's institute hosted a symposium, attended by Harry, discussing the invisible or psychological and mental wounds military veterans can suffer.

The former US president is honorary chairman of the 2016 Invictus Games and he has made it a cornerstone of his post-presidential work to support US military veterans and their families.

Harry admitted in his speech that "I joined the Army because, for a long time, I just wanted to be one of the guys. But what I learned through serving was that the extraordinary privileges of being a prince gave me an extraordinary opportunity to help my military family".

Mrs Obama also gave a speech and told the competitors: "Like Prince Harry I'm so incredibly inspired by all of you. I'm inspired by your courage, by your love of country, I'm inspired by the sacrifices you all make every day - particularly the wounded warriors and the care givers.

"You show such strength and resilience in the face of challenges that most of us can't even imagine."

During the games, more than 500 competitors from countries including Italy, Germany, Australia, Estonia, Jordan and the UK and Afghanistan will compete in 10 events - archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, swimming, athletics, wheelchair basketball, rugby and tennis.

The flags of each nation were paraded into the performance arena by cadets from the Liberty High School Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. They were joined by the competitors and each nation was cheered by the crowd as it was announced.

The Invictus flag, which had travelled from the UK to the US, and made a stop at the White House, made the final leg of its journey by helicopter and was brought into the arena by US Staff Sergeant August O'Neill - who has battled back to full health and returned to service after losing a leg, due to a bullet injury.

Choirmaster Gareth Malone led a performance of a group made up of injured UK and US veterans who sang the song Flesh and Blood.

He told the audience: "This choir came together for the first time just eight weeks ago. they have served heir country and now they have the scars both visible and invisible.

"Together they have written this song describing their experiences from injury through recovery to hope for the future."

The highlight of the night was a performance by James Blunt, a former Army officer, who played for more than 20 minutes, including his hit song You're Beautiful which he dedicated to the First Lady.

And Hollywood star Morgan Freeman made an appearance to introduce UK and US veterans who told their stories to the spectators.

Harry is expected to tour the Invictus Games with Mrs Obama later - with the two leading figures supporting the competitors.

Mr Fallon acknowledged that more could be done to help the psychological well-being of veterans when they leave the Armed Forces.

He said: "Yes we do need to do more. We've improved it, there's more stress management training now in every level of the Armed Forces.

"We have a veterans' transition protocol to make sure that when veterans do leave that they know where to get help, and we've given more money now to some of the key organisations like Combat Stress and Help for Heroes.

"Sometimes these wounds show much later on, there's a gap, and we need to make sure when they need help they know where to get it and they're not too proud to ask for it."

Speaking on ITV's Good Morning Britain in a pre-recorded interview before the Games started, Harry said he had moved on from the disappointment of being pulled out of active service in 2008 when his location was leaked in the media.

He said he had felt he was "one of the lads" before he was withdrawn, but he was now focusing on helping veterans who had returned.

Harry also spoke about his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, telling the programme: "It's a great shame that she's not here ... and that, yeah, you know, every day, depending on what I'm doing, I wonder what it would be like if she was here."

He recalled being in Orlando with his mother when he was a child, saying: "Running around with Donald Duck and all those characters with her, and now I'm back here, 31 years old, and trying my best to make her proud."

Harry added: "I don't feel there's that much pressure when it comes to filling her boots because I'm never going to be able to do that."

But he said that if there is even a small void that he can fill, he will endeavour to do so.

Asked about his mother's legacy and whether it weighs upon his shoulders, Harry said: "It's a weird one. I think earlier on in life you don't really think about that, you sort of find your own route in life."

He added: "In everything I do I hope I do it with a smile on my face, with an element of fun, and I love the fact that people are interested not with just what I'm doing but the causes that my heart's set on."

The Prince was asked how he got the Queen involved in the video in which he and his grandmother respond to US President Barack Obama and the First Lady's challenge about the Invictus Games.

He said she did not take much persuading, adding: "This is not unusual for her. It's an Olympic year, four years after she jumped out of a helicopter in a parachute.

"She's 90 years old but she gave me that look as if to say '90 years, and no-one ever asks me to do these fun things'. So it was like 'OK, let's do this!'."

Speaking about his role as uncle to Prince George and Princess Charlotte, he said: "It's a shame that they're not old enough to come out here, but hopefully whether it's the next Games or the ones after that ... get them down there and give them an opportunity to come and enjoy and see some remarkable people do some amazing things.

"I think George is almost at that age where he would completely get it, completely understand, probably be one of those kids going up going 'You've got no legs, why's that?'

"And the guys would be more than happy to tell the kids that."

Harry said George is happy playing with his toys and Charlotte is crawling.

Asked about becoming a father himself, he said: "I look forward to the time when it comes, but at the moment I'm dad to 110 of these competitors, well, actually, probably more like 500.

"I feel incredibly proud. It's not pride for the Games. It's pride for them. Military or non-military. These Games have somehow managed to create this amazing inspiration, this amazing brand to encourage anybody from any walks of life to get up and smash it and make the most of your second chance, I guess."

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