Prince Harry Is Like 'One of the Guys,' Invictus Games Team USA Competitor Says

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Garrett Kuwada says hanging with Prince Harry is a highlight of the 2023 Invictus Games.

Prince Harry Is Like 'One of the Guys,' Invictus Games Team USA Competitor Says
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The U.S. Air Force veteran, 53, is currently competing for Team USA at the sixth edition of the Invictus Games, which are in full swing in Düsseldorf, Germany. Prince Harry founded the international adaptive sports tournament for wounded, injured and sick service personnel and veterans in 2014, aiming to amplify the transformative power of sport for those who have served.

Garrett, who made his Invictus debut at the 2022 Games at The Hague, exclusively tells PEOPLE it’s an honor to compete for his country — and a joy to befriend Prince Harry. The veteran chatted with the Duke of Sussex behind the scenes at the big event last year and spent more time with Harry when he went scuba diving in Hawaii (Garrett’s home state) in November. Cameras captured the epic adventure for Heart of Invictus, Netflix’s limited series about competitors from six countries preparing for The Hague tournament.

Garrett Kuwada of Team United States challenges Kurt Ludke of Team Australia for the ball in the Mixed Team Semi Final match between Team United States and Team Australia during day two of the Invictus Games 2023 on September 11, 2023 in Duesseldorf, Germany.

After a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2016, Garrett has navigated a loss of coordination and balance, hearing, vision, speech and cognitive function, per the 15th Wing. He retired from the Air Force in 2018 after over 27 years of service and has found strength in competing in the Department of Defense's Warrior Games and the Invictus Games. Prince Harry, who rose to the rank of captain during his decade of service in the British Army and deployed twice to Afghanistan, was inspired to launch the Paralympic-style sports tournament on the international stage after attending the Warrior Games in 2013.

At the Invictus Games in Düsseldorf, Garrett is competing in wheelchair rugby, swimming and track and field — and the week began with a win! The Air Force vet helped Team USA cinch first place against Team U.K. in the wheelchair rugby gold medal match on Sunday. The Duke of Sussex personally presented medals — with his signature sense of play.

“At the gold medal match, as he was about to put the gold medal on me, he grabbed my beard and shook it!” Garrett said with a laugh of his interaction with Harry. “He said a few words to me and gave me a big hug. It’s awesome to feel that he recognizes me, comes up and treats me like I’m one of his friends. Like all veterans do, [when] we don’t talk to each other for maybe months or years — when we get together, it’s like we never left. That’s what it feels like when I talk with him.”

The Duke of Sussex, watches the wheelchair rugby finals at the Merkur Spiel-Arena during the Invictus Games in Dusseldorf, Germany. Picture date: Monday September 11, 2023.

“And they’re from all different countries. I’m so grateful that Prince Harry put this together for us veterans to come together and use this as part of our healing process. And we are, we’re healing, because everybody is smiling.”

Garrett attends the Invictus Games with his wife Joey, their son Casey and Casey's girlfriend Brianna.

“It’s very important. Our story specifically, and also hearing stories from other family members and athletes. This is lifesaving to a lot of people,” she says. “This is something that veterans, from our story, Garrett and I’s story, it saved his life. He looks forward to competing, it gives him purpose, it gives him something to strive for. He’s retired and his only job is to be an athlete, to be a competitor. And so for something like this to have for these injured servicemen and women, it’s needed. A lot of veterans feel like their lives are over, and they have nothing more positive to experience. But these Games, you can see, tell a whole different story.”