Did Prince William serve in the military? Army service explained, what did he do in the RAF - what rank is he?

William’s philanthropy was reflected in his military career, which focused on search and rescue operations

The Welsh First Minister has indicated that he does not expect the new Prince of Wales to follow in the footsteps of his father and learn Welsh.

Mark Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “nobody will be expecting miracles” from Prince William on the language, admitting that it could be a “challenge” to learn as an adult.

William and his wife Kate became the new Prince and Princess of Wales following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with King Charles announcing their titles in an historic address to the nation.

At official ceremonial events following the death of his grandmother, William has been seen sporting his lavish military uniform.

But what exactly is his role with the UK’s armed forces, and what rank is he?

Here is everything you need to know.

When did Prince William join the military?

William joined the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst in early 2006 after deciding to pursue a military career, and was officially commissioned as a lieutenant.

As "Lieutenant Wales" - a name based on his father’s then title of Prince of Wales - he followed his younger brother into the Blues and Royals as a troop commander in an armoured reconnaissance unit.

He spent five months training at Bovington Camp in Dorset, but William’s position as second-in-line to the throne at the time, as well as the convention of ministers advising against putting that person in dangerous situations, cast doubt on his chances of ever seeing combat.

Prince William talks to a member of the Afghan Army before a Remembrance Day ceremony at Camp Bastion in 2010 (Photo: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince William talks to a member of the Afghan Army before a Remembrance Day ceremony at Camp Bastion in 2010 (Photo: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prince William talks to a member of the Afghan Army before a Remembrance Day ceremony at Camp Bastion in 2010 (Photo: John Stillwell - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Those chances grew slimmer still after Prince Harry’s planned deployment to Iraq was put on hold in 2007 due to "specific threats.”

Instead, William joined the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, where he was commissioned as a sub-lieutenant and a flying officer respectively; both ranks roughly equate to the army rank of lieutenant.

Where was he deployed?

Following completion of his training, William was presented with his wings by his father, and was sent to Afghanistan in a C-17 Globemaster to repatriate the body of Trooper Robert Pearson.

William was then assigned to the Royal Navy to train, and completed an expedited Naval Officer training programme at Britannia Royal Naval College.

In mid-2008, William took part in a £40 million drugs seizure in the Atlantic, north-east of Barbados - he was a member of the crew aboard the Lynx helicopter that assisted in the seizure of 900kg of cocaine from a speedboat.

William was then promoted to Flight Lieutenant after transferring to the RAF, joining the Search and Rescue Force to train as a pilot aboard the Sea King search and rescue helicopter.

In late 2011, he took part in a search-and-rescue effort involving a cargo ship that was sinking in the Irish Sea; as co-pilot, he assisted in the rescue of two sailors.

Just a few months later he was assigned to a six-week tour in the Falkland Islands - the Argentine government criticised the Duke’s deployment as a "provocative act", falling so close to the 30th anniversary of the start of the Falklands War.

A couple of years later, in 2014, William accepted a full-time position as a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) stationed at Cambridge Airport.

Despite his military helicopter pilot qualifications, William needed a civil pilot’s licence and additional training before being permitted to take command of the Air Ambulance - he received some of his EAAA pilot training at Norwich Airport.

Despite the fact that his employment was paid, Kensington Palace announced that William would donate his whole salary to the EAAA charity.

What is his current connection to the military?

William left the EAAA in mid-2017 to take on full-time royal obligations on behalf of his grandmother.

William is Honorary Air Commandant of RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, which is home to Typhoon squadrons which deploy to Cyprus.

Since 2006, he has also been Commodore-in-Chief of the Royal Navy Submarine Service and Commodore-in-Chief of Scotland, and in early 2011 was made Colonel of the Irish Guards.

Outside of the UK, in 2009, William became an Honorary Canadian Ranger.

William is patron of over 30 charitable and military organisations, including the conservation charity Tusk Trust and homelessness charity Centrepoint.

In March 2020, the Duke became the official patron of London’s Air Ambulance Charity after sponsoring an anniversary campaign the previous year, and in May 2020, he granted the organisation permission to refuel on Kensington Palace’s private lawn during the Covid-19 pandemic.