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Prince Harry wears his medals as he presents special award from Montecito home

The Duke of Sussex served in the military for ten years

Danielle Stacey
Online Royal CorrespondentLondon
26 April 2024
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The Duke of Sussex proudly donned his medals as he delivered a passionate video message from his Montecito home for the Military Times Service Members of The Year Awards.

Prince Harry, 39, dressed in a suit, donned his Afghanistan Operational Service Medal to mark his military service, as well as the Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilee medals, as he presented Sergeant First Class Elizabeth Marks with the Soldier of the Year Award.

The father-of-two, who completed two tours of Afghanistan in his ten-year military career, paid tribute to Sergeant Marks, calling her a "friend" and calling her a "beacon of inspiration".

WATCH: Prince Harry dons medals as he presents Soldier of the Year Award

Sergeant Marks joined the US Army at the age of 17 in 2008 but suffered bilateral hip injuries while deployed in Iraq two years later. Now she is a four-time Invictus Games gold medalist and a five-time Paralympic medalist, having taken up swimming as a way to complete additional physical therapy and cardio in 2012.

Harry said in his video message, which was played at the awards ceremony in Washington DC: "I first met Sergeant First Class Elizabeth Marks at the Invictus Games in Orlando 2016, where I presented her with not one, but four gold medals that she'd won in swimming. To me, she epitomises the courage, resilience and determination represented across our service community. And this is not just because of her swimming abilities."

Prince Harry wearing four medals© Military Times Service Members of the Year
The Duke wore his medals to deliver his speech

He continued: "Ellie has courageously overcome every obstacle to cross her path. She has turned her pain into purpose and led through compassion and willpower, showing others that the impossible is indeed possible. Despite the injuries she endured during her deployment as a medical assistant in Iraq – along with numerous surgeries and setbacks that would have deterred many – she has persevered tirelessly, becoming the first woman in the Army's world-class athlete program as well as the first swimmer the program had ever seen.

"She's also taken her recovery a step further, using her experiences and achievements to inspire and assist others in their mental and physical journey into sport, ensuring those who can't see a way out or through are introduced to the medicine of sport that saved her too.

"For the Invictus community, she has supported so many – coaching Ukraine and Colombia when they've needed it the most, always remembering what it was like at the beginning of the healing journey. Ellie, you embody the Invictus spirit for your selfless service, you know that sport doesn't just save lives, it transforms them for the better. And in finding your own cure, you have helped countless brothers and sisters in staying alive."

Prince Harry presenting gold medal to Elizabeth Marks in Orlando© Getty
Harry presenting Sergeant Elizabeth Marks with her gold medal at the Invictus Games Orlando 2016

Harry founded the Invictus Games in 2014, an international multi-sport event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women, both serving and veterans. A Thanksgiving service is set to take place at St Paul's Cathedral in London on 8 May, but it has not been confirmed whether the Duke will fly over from the US to attend.

Prince Harry delivers tribute to Soldier of the Year award from porch of Montecito home© Military Times Service Members of the Year
Harry appeared to record the speech from the porch of his Montecito home

The Duke finished by saying: "Your unwavering commitment serves as a beacon of inspiration, offering hope and setting a powerful example for others to follow. I am honoured to call you my friend and can't thank you enough for being you - and for Mason, your husband, for being so supportive of you.

"To all the service members in the room tonight, past and present, know that your community and indeed the international community is grateful.

"Grateful for all the sacrifices you and your family have made, grateful for your service to your country, grateful for continuing the important values we learnt. Tonight, it's for you. Thank you for all that you've done."

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