Prince William Served More Than 7 Years In The Military. Here's A Look Back At His Time In Service

Like many members of the British royal family, Prince William has extensive military schooling and training under his belt. While his brother Prince Harry has seen active duty in a war, William's education in the military has consisted of time at the British military academy Sandhurst, time in the Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force. 

William made the official decision to join the military full-time in 2008 after spending time learning how to fly helicopters and planes. As he explained at the time, the training had a major impact on him. He said, "Joining Search and Rescue is a perfect opportunity for me to serve in the Forces operationally, while contributing to a vital part of the country's Emergency Services" (via People). In the 2013 documentary on his time as a pilot, "Helicopter Rescue," William also explained, "There's no greater feeling than when you've actually done some good and saved someone's life."

William once referenced his brother's time in war, and in 2010, he told the BBC that he had a "real determination" to follow his younger brother's path into Afghanistan. It's unclear what stood in William's way, though it's likely his high profile would have made such a move challenging. Prince William ultimately retired from the military in 2017 so that he could focus more on royal duties required of him as he begins his march toward the crown. Here is a look at Prince William's military career from start to finish. 

He graduated from the University of St. Andrews in 2005

The first step in Prince William's military education was a four-year stint at the University of St. Andrews, the school he attended in Scotland with the intention of attending the military academy Sandhurst in January 2006, As reported by ABC News, William spent the months in between the two schools conducting official royal visits, which included representing Queen Elizabeth II at a rugby event in New Zealand. 

While William's Scottish schooling wasn't exactly focused on the military, completing his four-year program was required before he could begin training as an officer. The news outlet also noted that many royal men go into the military in some fashion, with then-Prince Charles having "honorary ranks, including vice-admiral in the Royal Navy, lieutenant-general in the British Army and air marshal in the Royal Air Force." Charles's brother Prince Andrew also served in the Royal Navy and eventually retired from the military as a commander. William also spoke to Hello! Magazine about his potential military ambitions. As he told the outlet, "If I was to join the Army I'd want to go where my men went, and I'd want to do what they did."

The future king returned to Sandhurst in 2018 when he stood in for his grandmother at the Sovereign Day's Parade. He told the year's graduates, per USA Today, "It is almost 12 years ago to the day that I stood where you are" and recalled the pride he felt on that day.

Prince William joined Sandhurst 2006

Prince William made his decision to join the British military officially in January 2006 when he enrolled in Sandhurst military academy. As reported by NBC News, William was visited by his father on his first day at the prestigious school, which is a stop for many who plan to join the military in the country. William had no problem passing the Regular Commissions Board exams, required tests that evaluate candidates for the school in terms of their physical, emotional, and mental health.

William had previously stated in 2004 that if he joined the military, he didn't expect or want to be treated any differently from anyone else in the military. As he said, "The last thing I want to be is mollycoddled or wrapped up in cotton wool. If I was to join the army, I would want to go where my men went and I would want to do what they did" (via NBC).

The elder of the royal brothers entered Sandhurst a year after his younger brother, Prince Harry. William's career at Sandhurst was later the subject of a 2015 trial when retired colonel Roy Parkinson admitted to jurors that the future king was never headed toward winning the school's top award, the "sword of honor." As The Guardian reported, Parkinson said, "He was in the top third ... To be in the running at all you have got to be a junior under officer."

He joined the Royal Navy and Air Force in 2007

A year later, Prince William made major moves in the British military in 2007 when he joined both the Royal Air Force and then the Royal Navy. As reported by People, the move gave William the chance to follow the route that his father previously took in the military, which included learning how to operate and fly helicopters and planes. King Charles completed his training as a military pilot in 1971.

The move made sense for practical reasons as well. As noted by Buckingham Palace, William will eventually lead the entire military in the United Kingdom. The palace explained, joining the Air Force and Navy was the next step in a path that would teach the future king "the structures, capabilities and ethos of the RAF and the Royal Navy" (via People).

While in the Navy, William spent a good bit of time stationed on the HMS Iron Duke. Commander Mark Newland, who was in charge of the vessel at the time, explained, "His activities will be primarily based around watch-keeping (and) ship-driving, as well as contributing to the counter-drugs planning (and) a primary role in our disaster relief planning operation" (via Buckingham Palace). Prior to this move, William spent time as the leader of the Household Cavalry Regiment.

He became a search and rescue pilot in 2010

Prince William continued his march through the ranks of the British military in 2010 when he added new roles and titles to his resume. CNN announced that William had completed his training as a search and rescue pilot that year and joined the squadron stationed at RAF Valley, a group in the Air Force that were living and training on the island of Anglesey in Wales.

William issued a statement via Buckingham Palace that indicated just how pleased he was with the achievement. As he said, "I am really delighted to have completed the training course with my fellow students. The course has been challenging, but I have enjoyed it immensely. I absolutely love flying, so it will be an honor to serve operationally with the Search and Rescue Force, helping to provide such a vital emergency service."

The palace also detailed William's training and explained that he and his group spent seven months learning to fly with both the Search and Rescue Training Unit and the Sea King Operational Conversion Unit. William was required to undergo a combined 120 hours of live and simulated flight training. William and his fellow trainees were then tested on their knowledge through "a series of assessed exercises designed to test the students' ability to work as fully integrated members of the Search and Rescue Force."

Prince William also trained as an air ambulance pilot

Prince William's military experience and training didn't end in 2010. He continued to add to his knowledge base by training as an air ambulance pilot, and he was a member of the East Anglian Air Ambulance from 2015 to 2017. 

William admitted in a 2021 episode of Apple Fitness+'s "Time to Walk" that the experience weighed on his mental health. After explaining how much he enjoyed his training as a helicopter pilot, William said he soon realized that the actual job was emotionally taxing. As he said, "Seeing patients and families ripped apart on almost a daily basis, that routine, you just get into a habit of head down and get on with it."

William was also a witness to a particularly harrowing experience when he assisted a young boy who had been hit by a car. As William continued, the boy's parents were understandably upset. He said, "And the parents are very hysterical, as you can imagine, screaming, wailing, not knowing what to do, you know, and in, in real agony themselves. And that lives with you." Weeks later, William realized that he was still carrying the sadness of the day with him, and he soon understood how important it is to discuss mental health. 

Prince William retired from the military in 2017

In 2017, Prince William announced his intention to retire from the military to shift toward performing more and more duties for the royal family. The Jakarta Post reported that William made his announcement at the same time that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip made the decision to step back slightly from their own royal duties to lighten their load and to make room for the future generations of the royal family.

William used part of his announcement to praise the families that he met in his time in the service, particularly as an air ambulance pilot as part of the medical team. He said, "As part of the team, I have been invited into people's homes to share moments of extreme emotion, from relief that we have given someone a fighting chance, to profound grief. As a team, we travel to some very daunting incidents and we have been through some incredibly tough times together, witnessing some appalling tragedies."

William also indicated that he planned to join his wife, Kate Middleton, and his brother, Prince Harry, to begin new initiatives to address mental health with their platform Heads Together. As William explained at the time, "We have seen that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges. Let's all get together and change the conversation from one of silence and shame to one of optimism and support" (via ABC News).

Prince William has a number of military-related patronages

Since his retirement from the military, Prince William has continued to support the British armed forces. One way that he's shown his support is by taking on a few military-related patronages. As of this writing, he is a patron of the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and Honorary Air Commandant of Royal Air Force Coningsby.

Both organizations are proud of their association with William. The Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight explains that its mission is to maintain and preserve artifacts of the military and to "promote the modern day Air Force and to inspire the future generations." As the organization states on its website, "We are proud to have His Royal Highness Prince William, Prince of Wales, as our Patron."

In November 2022, William visited the Royal Air Force Coningsby to help open a boxing club and to find out more about the technology on base. This visit was one of several that William has made over the years. People has reported that William's past visits have included stopping by in 2017 to spend time with veterans of World War II. In fact, he and Kate Middleton have often made a point of visiting veterans of the war over the years, such as when they helped mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy, France. William told the gathered veterans, "It is vital that this sacrifice, and the reasons for this sacrifice, are never forgotten by our generation and generations to come" (via People).

Prince Harry has also examined Prince William's military career

In his 2023 memoir "Spare" Prince William's younger brother Prince Harry examines and digs into his older brother's military career. Unlike William, Harry served numerous tours of duty in active war when he was stationed in Afghanistan, and he graduated from the military academy Sandhurst almost a year ahead of his brother, as well.

Both facts are covered in "Spare." As Harry writes of their military school, "I was no longer Prince Harry, I was Second Lieutenant Wales of the Blues and Royals, second oldest regiment of the British Army ... For one brief moment, Spare outranked Heir." William even had to salute him at Harry's graduation, an act that was certainly new to the brothers.

In contrast to William's military training, Harry had extensive experience on the ground during war. As he writes in the book, he was deployed in the Middle East for 20 weeks after his first attempt to serve ended abruptly. Harry also writes about military training days that he and his older brother attended when they were teens, and noted that the pair often suffered a number of injuries, such as when he impaled a knee on a set of bolts.