EL CENTRO, California – Prince Harry will arrive in the United States next week to begin a two-month military helicopter training course to prepare him for combat.
The prince, who is a British Army captain, will start at the Naval Air Facility at El Centro where he will fly Apache helicopters in the remote California desert near the Mexican border. The facility hosts allied troops throughout the year because its hot, dusty conditions replicate Afghanistan's harsh environment and the clear weather allows for constant flying.
"He will be Capt. Wales when he is here," said Capt. Devon Jones, the U.S. commanding officer at the facility. "He will be treated like any other British pilot."
The prince will be among 20 students in the British Army participating in the training that ends at an Air Force station in Gila Bend, Ariz., where they will fire missiles, rockets and cannons from the Apache helicopters.
The course is the final phase of a 16-month training program that British Army pilots undergo to prepare for deployment. But those who succeed still have a few final steps to complete in Great Britain before they are ready to be sent into combat, said British Army Lt. Col. Peter Bullen.
He said the majority of troops who pass the training go on to be deployed to places like Afghanistan, where they will work alongside U.S. troops and coalition forces.
The prince and the other students will not be prohibited from going off the base during their free time, except like U.S. troops, they are barred from crossing the border into Mexico, Bullen said. The facility is just outside the city of El Centro, which is heavily influenced by its proximity to Mexico, with business signs in Spanish and radio broadcasts in a mix of English and Spanish.
Jesus Gonzalez, 33, said it "would be awesome" if he catches a glimpse of the prince in his hometown.
"We don't have places for him to go to cruise around. He's going to get bored. I would recommend the mall," he said as he ordered from a roadside hamburger stand.
The facility is the winter home of the Navy's Blue Angels and the site where the "Top Gun" movie starring Tom Cruise was filmed. About 40,000 people live in El Centro, which is in an agricultural area that has the highest unemployment rate in the United States, at 32.4 percent. It's also known for its 100-plus summer temperatures.
"Welcome to the hot spot," joked Jose Cotero, 49, who was eating nearby. "It's not even that hot right now," he added.