CAMP BASTION , Afghanistan — Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, flew into southern Afghanistan on Friday to begin a four-month combat tour as a gunner for an attack helicopter.
The 27-year-old who has made headlines around the world for his partying is returning to Afghanistan for a second tour. He will start work as an Apache co-pilot and gunner within 10 days in the country's restive Helmand province, the British military said.
It is a definite shift from last month, when embarrassing naked photos emerged of Harry in a Las Vegas hotel room playing strip billiards.
Looked relaxed if slightly tired, Harry gave a thumbs-up Friday after a long journey on a troop carrier flight from England to Britain's Camp Bastion, a sprawling desert base close to the town of Lashkar Gah.
Capt. Harry Wales, as he is known in the military, wore his combat uniform and joined his 100-strong unit — the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly based in Helmand province, and has suffered 425 deaths since the start of operations against the Taliban in 2001.
"Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honor to represent his country in her majesty's armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him," St James's Palace said in a statement. Harry did not speak as he arrived in Helmand.
The prince's previous posting as a battlefield air traffic controller in Afghanistan in late 2007 and early 2008 lasted only 10 weeks. It was cut short after his secret deployment was made public.
With that, he became the first member of the British royal family to serve in a war zone since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands conflict with Argentina in 1982.
With typical humor, Harry joked about his nickname "the bullet magnet."
Britain's defense ministry said it decided to confirm Harry's deployment on this occasion after a threat assessment concluded that acknowledging his presence in Afghanistan would not put the royal or his colleagues at further risk.
In an interview last March, Harry insisted he was eager to return to combat after training to fly Apache helicopters at U.S. bases in California and southern Arizona.
"I've served my country. I enjoyed it because I was with my friends. And, you know, everyone has a part to play," he told CBS News.
"You can't train people and then not put them into the role they need to play. For me personally, as I said, I want to serve my country. I've done it once, and I'm still in the Army, I feel as though I should get the opportunity to do it again," he said.
In May 2007, the British military prevented Harry from heading out on a planned six-month tour of duty to Iraq because the risks to his safety were deemed too great.