"He is totally at ease within the military environment – he speaks their language and they respect him hugely," someone who knows him well tells PEOPLE

By Simon Perry
October 29, 2015 04:10 PM
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Prince Harry has left the White House – but his mission to help veterans continues.

Harry, 31, was in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to spread the word for his brainchild the Invictus Games, which will see wounded servicemen and women duke it out over a number of paralympic-style sports in Orlando next May.

The veteran of two tours of Afghanistan is perfect for the job of empathizing with the needs of ex-armed forces members – and he has the bit between his teeth in wanting to make things happen, those close to him tell PEOPLE.

“He is totally at ease within the military environment – he speaks their language and they respect him hugely,” someone who knows him well tells PEOPLE.

And they see him as one of them. “He is somebody they are able to relate to very easily and importantly he can relate back to them,” says Ed Parker, the co-founder of another military charity, Walking with the Wounded. “He’s genuinely interested in hearing peoples’ back-stories. He wants to get under their skin so he can take that understanding and experience to help others in the future.”

And, putting aside Invictus Games for a few days, Harry will be celebrating the achievements of six special former armed forces members who are ending their Walk of Britain at the grand surroundings of Buckingham Palace on Sunday.

Parker tells PEOPLE, “Through Invictus, he brought the attention of a considerably wider audience, and in doing so that led to the recognition of how remarkable these men and women are. That doesn’t change, and he doesn’t change that, they are extraordinary people – but it does bring that focus onto it.”

Those close to him say we are just at the start of Harry’s public and private work on behalf of former colleagues. He has already started volunteering with the British army unit that helps soldiers with their rehabilitation and career-change.

And like his sister in law Princess Kate and brother Prince William, he is also zeroing in on mental health aspects of veterans’ needs. He spoke about PTSD last month, for example. “Watch how over the next 12 months how that will increase the understanding and awareness and commitment around veterans’ mental health,” says Parker. “They all have their areas of interest, but mental health is the three of them together – and that demonstrates the importance that they see in it.”

Research suggests a veteran is twice as likely to be depressed than someone who has not served. “The princes and the duchess are going to further that debate and talk more about stigma in the coming months and years and that can only be good. We have to defeat the taboo. I think that helps when you get someone in the same position as Prince Harry talking about it,” Parker tells PEOPLE.

Harry has been out to walk with the trekkers twice – once publicly, with the media, including PEOPLE, in tow and once quietly to show his support.

“When he first joined them, three weeks ago, they had been on the road for 40 days and he came in and gave them a real boost,” Parker adds.

“He was able to tell them how brilliantly they were doing, how knackered he was at the end of the day and that, thankfully, he wasn t walking tomorrow. They bounce out of there saying, ‘Well, we are and we can.’ ”

As someone who knows him well says, Harry is freer “of the shackles” of responsibility that come with being closer to the throne and “can do more of what he wants.” And he’s still got the playful side that makes his fans around the world smile. “When he makes a blunder these days, which is nothing like his teenage years, he is normally loved by everybody because people see him as human,” says the source. “He is one of the lads.”

That lively personality and draw only helps with those like Walking with the Wounded and Invictus. “He feels a very strong sense of being with other veterans,” says Parker. “Will he do it for the rest of his life? You’ll have to ask him. I hope so.”

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