LONDON - Capt. Wales is coming home to be Prince Harry once again.
The Ministry of Defense revealed Monday that the 28-year-old prince is returning from a 20-week deployment in Afghanistan, where he served as an Apache helicopter pilot with the Army Air Corps. It did not immediately divulge his exact whereabouts.
In interviews conducted in Afghanistan, the third in line to the British throne described feeling boredom, frustration and satisfaction during a tour that saw him kill Taliban fighters on missions in support of ground troops. He also spoke of his struggle to balance his job as an army officer with his royal role - and his relief at the chance to be "one of the guys."
"My father's always trying to remind me about who I am and stuff like that," said Harry, the younger son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. "But it's very easy to forget about who I am when I am in the army. Everyone's wearing the same uniform and doing the same kind of thing."
Stationed at Camp Bastion, a sprawling British base in the southern Afghan desert, the prince - known as Capt. Wales in the military - flew scores of missions as a co-pilot gunner, sometimes firing rockets and missiles at Taliban fighters.
"Take a life to save a life. That's what we revolve around, I suppose," he said. "If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game."
Harry's second tour in Afghanistan went more smoothly than the first, in 2007-2008, which was cut short after 10 weeks when a magazine and websites disclosed details of his whereabouts. British media had agreed to a news blackout on security grounds.
This time, the media were allowed limited access to the prince in return for not reporting operational details.
A member of the air corps' 662 Squadron, the prince was part of a two-man crew whose duties ranged from supporting ground troops in firefights with the Taliban to accompanying British Chinook and U.S. Black Hawk helicopters as they evacuated wounded soldiers.
He said that while sometimes it was necessary to fire on insurgents, the formidable helicopter - equipped with wing-mounted rockets, Hellfire laser-guided missiles and a 30mm machine gun - was usually an effective deterrent.
"If guys get injured, we come straight into the overhead, box off any possibility of an insurgent attack because they look at us and just go, `Right, that's an unfair fight, we're not going to go near them,'" Harry said.
Harry shared a room with another pilot in a basic accommodation block made from shipping containers, and passed the time between callouts playing video games and watching movies with his fellow officers. His security detail accompanied him on base, but not when flying.
"It's as normal as it's going to get," Harry said of the arrangement. "I'm one of the guys. I don't get treated any differently."
But he said he still received unwanted attention at Camp Bastion, which is home to thousands of troops.
"For me it's not that normal because I go into the cookhouse and everyone has a good old gawp, and that's one thing that I dislike about being here," he said. "Because there's plenty of guys in there that have never met me, therefore look at me as Prince Harry and not as Capt. Wales, which is frustrating."
Ever since Harry graduated from the Sandhurst military academy in 2006, his desire for a military career has collided with his royal role. After his curtailed first Afghan deployment, he retrained as a helicopter pilot in order to have the chance of being sent back.
The speed and height at which Apaches fly make them hard for insurgents to shoot down, but Harry's squadron commander, Maj. Ali Mack, said the prince had still faced real danger.
"There is nothing routine about deploying to an operational theater - where there is absolutely an insurgency - and flying an attack helicopter in support of both ISAF and Afghan security forces," Mack said.
The danger was underscored soon after Harry arrived at Camp Bastion in September, when insurgents attacked the adjacent U.S. base, Camp Leatherneck, killing two U.S. marines and wounding several other troops.
Harry said he would have preferred to have been deployed on the ground with his old regiment, the Household Cavalry, rather than spending his tour of duty at Camp Bastion, a fortified mini-city replete with shops, gyms and a Pizza Hut restaurant.
Harry said it was "a pain the arse, being stuck in Bastion."
"I'd much rather be out with the lads in a PB (patrol base)," he said. "The last job was, for me personally, better."
Despite the frustrations of base life, Harry said he relished the flying: "As soon as we're outside the fence, we're in the thick of it."
"Yes, OK, we're supposedly safe, but anything can go wrong with this thing, but at the end of the day we're out there to provide cover and protection for the guys on the ground," he said.
Many of Harry's family have also seen combat - most recently his uncle, Prince Andrew, who flew Royal Navy helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War. His grandfather, Prince Philip, served on Royal Navy battleships during World War II.
Older brother William, who is second in line to the throne, is a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot. He, too, has expressed a desire to serve on the front line, but officials consider it too dangerous.
Harry said he thought William should be allowed to serve in combat.
"Yes, you get shot at. But if the guys who are doing the same job as us are being shot at on the ground, I don't think there's anything wrong with us being shot at as well.
"People back home will have issues with that, but we're not special. The guys out there are. Simple as that."
He said that while William was envious of his Afghan experience, his elder brother's job had its advantages.
"He gets to go home to his wife and his dog, whereas out here we don't," Harry said. "We're stuck playing PlayStation in a tent full of men."
After the respite from scrutiny, the prince is returning to a Harry-hungry media eager for images of the eligible bachelor, and stories of his off-duty escapades.
Just before he went to Afghanistan, Harry hit the headlines during a game of strip billiards at a Las Vegas hotel.
He apologized for the incident. "It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince," he said.
But the prince did not attempt to hide his frustration with the intense coverage he faces.
"I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down," Harry said. "But at the end of the day I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect."
Later in the year he hopes to join a group of injured servicemen on a charity race to the South Pole, and in July he is due to become an uncle when William's wife Catherine gives birth to her first child.
Harry said that he "can't wait" to be an uncle, but hoped that Kate would be given privacy during her pregnancy.
And he conceded that he felt more comfortable as Capt. Wales than as Prince Harry.
He said he tried to balance three facets of his life - "one in the army, one socially in my own private time, and then one with the family and stuff like that."
"So there is a switch and I flick it when necessary," he said.
"Army comes first. It's my work at the end of the day."
This story is based on a pool report from Afghanistan.