Prince Harry Wears Medals During Virtual Soldier of the Year Ceremony

An inspiring tale of resilience and transformation unfolds

by Zain ul Abedin
Prince Harry Wears Medals During Virtual Soldier of the Year Ceremony
© Handout/Getty Images

In a heartfelt virtual appearance on April 24, Prince Harry paid tribute to a distinguished member of the armed forces, Sergeant First Class Elizabeth Marks, by presenting her with the prestigious Military Times Soldier of the Year Award.

The ceremony, seemingly conducted from the serene backdrop of his Montecito, California home, saw the Duke of Suss-x proudly adorned with four significant medals, recognizing his military service. During his address, Prince Harry recounted his inspiring first encounter with Marks at the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, where he had the honor of awarding her four gold medals for swimming.

"To me, Elizabeth epitomizes the courage, resilience, and determination that define our service community, not just through her swimming skills but through her entire conduct," Harry expressed. Marks, who joined the U.S. Army at the tender age of 17 in 2008, has faced substantial challenges throughout her career, including severe bilateral hip injuries during her deployment as a medical assistant in Iraq.

These injuries, alongside numerous surgeries and setbacks, shaped her trajectory within the Army, yet she never wavered in her commitment. Her perseverance made her the first woman in the Army's World-Class Athlete Program and its first-ever swimmer.

From Pain to Purpose

Beyond her athletic achievements, Marks has turned her recovery into a powerful tool for inspiring others. She actively uses her experiences to support and inspire others' mental and physical journeys into sports, particularly through the Invictus Games - an international adaptive multi-sport event founded by Prince Harry in 2014 for wounded, injured, or sick armed services personnel.

"Ellie has courageously overcome every obstacle in her path, turning pain into purpose, leading through compassion and willpower, and demonstrating that the impossible is indeed possible," Harry continued. He highlighted how Marks has extended her influence by coaching teams from Ukraine and Colombia, profoundly impacting their experiences at the Invictus Games.

Concluding his tribute, Prince Harry lauded Marks for embodying the Invictus spirit through her selfless service. "Ellie, you know that sport doesn't just save lives—it transforms them. In finding your cure, you've helped countless others in their battles, serving as a beacon of hope and setting a powerful example for us all," he remarked, adding a personal note, "I am honored to call you my friend and can't thank you enough for being you." Prince Harry's military background includes ten years of service and two tours in Afghanistan, which earned him several medals, including the Operational Service Medal for Afghanistan and the Queen's Jubilee medals. These medals underline his deep connection to the military community he continues to support.

Prince Harry