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Prince Harry breaks silence over US military award backlash with message to veterans

The Duke of Sussex has spoken out for the first time following backlash over his announcement as the recipient of an award named after a US war hero.

Prince Harry hailed the wounded, injured and sick serving UK personnel and veterans who are to take part in the the first Invictus Games to include winter sports.

The award Harry was set to receive is named after the late Pat Tillman, who dropped his professional American football career to join the US Army in the aftermath of 9/11. He was later killed in Afghanistan.

Harry, who also completed two tours of Afghanistan, was set to be handed the award by tennis star Serena Williams in a ceremony hosted by ESPN.

However, the decision to give him the honour has been criticised, including by Mr Tillman’s own mother, prompting calls for a rethink and even a petition urging the sports network to choose another recipient. Her opinion was echoed by over 70,000 people who have signed a Change.org petition.

The sporting network defended its decision in a statement and praised the “incredible” work Harry has done with the Invictus Games.

The award is named after Pat Tillman, who joined the US army after leaving his American football career

The award is named after Pat Tillman, who joined the US army after leaving his American football career

The Royal British Legion and Ministry of Defence have named a 64-strong squad, made up of 60 competitors and four reserves, as Team UK for the Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler in February.

Harry said he is excited to see their “passion, determination, and resilience”.

“Congratulations to those selected for Team UK for our first-ever Winter Invictus Games in Vancouver Whistler next February,” he said.

“Team UK will join over 500 competitors from across 20 nations in this groundbreaking event that expands the range and profile of winter adaptive sports.

“These games present an incredible opportunity for our courageous service personnel and veterans to demonstrate their skills in new challenges like alpine skiing, snowboarding and skeleton, as well as providing a truly memorable experience for their families.

“We’re excited to see their passion, determination, and resilience on full display as they take on this new chapter.”

Harry, pictured in 2012, was in the military for 10 years (John Stillwell/PA)

Harry, pictured in 2012, was in the military for 10 years (John Stillwell/PA) (PA Archive)

The former head of the Royal Navy has also urged Harry to “think long and hard” about accepting the Pat Tillman award.

Admiral Lord Alan West, who headed the Royal Navy from 2002 to 2006, told the MailOnline that him accepting the award wouldn’t “travel well with people in the military” and said it would be “rather bad publicity”.

“I really think Harry should be well advised to sit back and not accept awards like this,” the Labour peer said.

“It doesn’t travel well with people in the military. And when the mother of the man who died doesn’t want him to get this award, he should think about that.

“My advice to him is to sit back and not accept any awards at the moment. They are going his way because he has such a high profile and people want to take advantage of that.”

Admiral Lord Alan West

Admiral Lord Alan West (UK Parliament)

“He ought to think very hard and long about accepting awards for things like being an exceptional pilot and being exceptionally brave,” Lord Alan added.

The Team UK for the Invictus Games Vancouver Whistler includes people from all services and of different generations, some of whom are facing challenging physical and mental injuries sustained while serving the UK either at home or abroad.

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