Why Prince Harry 'Promised' Himself He'd Be Out of the Army 'Before Having a Wife and Kids'

"I couldn't imagine the heartache of being apart for so long during deployment," the Duke of Sussex tells PEOPLE

Prince Harry recognizes the sacrifices made by service members — as well as their families.

The current Invictus Games in The Netherlands, mark the first time the Duke of Sussex is attending as both a husband to Meghan Markle as well as a father to Archie, who turns 3 on May 6, and Lilibet, 10 months.

"Being a dad certainly adds another emotional layer to it," the Duke of Sussex tells PEOPLE in this week's exclusive cover story. "When I was in the Army, I promised myself I would be out before having a wife and kids, because I couldn't imagine the heartache of being apart for so long during deployment, the risk of possibly getting injured and the reality that my family's lives could be changed forever if that happened."

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"Every member of the Invictus community has experienced varying degrees of these things. I have tremendous respect for what they and their families sacrifice in the name of service," he adds. "For the dads and mums who have served, and have been wounded or injured or fallen ill, there's nothing that compares to seeing them rediscover their ability to do whatever they put their minds to. There's nothing like seeing their kids watch proudly from the stands. It's a true inspiration and a deeply touching experience."

Meghan and Harry Invictus Games
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry hug Invictus Games athlete Lisa Johnston. Patrick van Katwijk/Getty

Josh Smith, the Team U.S.A. cocaptain who first met Harry and Meghan at the 2018 Australia Games, shared time with them again in the Netherlands.

"Being a father, there's an immediate connection that we share," Smith tells PEOPLE.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend day two of the Invictus Games 2020
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images

Prince Harry's role as a fellow combat veteran — he served in the British Army for 10 years, including two tours in Afghanistan — also plays a big part in relating to the athletes competing in the adaptive sports competition.

"The Duke came over to me, shook my hand, gave me five. He said, 'It's great to see you again, Josh. Thanks for being here.' That's something that's really special coming from the creator of the Games," Smith says.

Joshua Smith of Team USA competes during the Men's IT7 1500m Final on day two of the Invictus Games The Hague 2020
Josh Smith of Team USA. Lukas Schulze/Getty Images for Invictus Games The Hague 2020

When it comes to bringing Archie and Lili to the Invictus Games someday, Harry says, "We can't wait!" — and he's already introduced the competition to his son.

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"I showed Archie a video of wheelchair basketball and rugby from the Invictus Games in Sydney, and he absolutely loved it," Harry says.

Prince Harry Cover Rollout

"I showed him how some were missing legs and explained that some had invisible injuries, too," he continued. "Not because he asked, but because I wanted to tell him. Kids understand so much, and to see it through his eyes was amazing because it's so unfiltered and honest."

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