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A Welcome Return

Woods College faculty member Andrew McAleer back in classroom after tour of duty in Afghanistan

02/14/13
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Andrew McAleer (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

By Reid Oslin | Special to the Chronicle

Published: Feb. 14, 2013

Woods College of Advancing Studies faculty member Andrew McAleer ’91 brings a wealth of experiences to his teaching, as a published crime novelist, a state prosecutor, an attorney, and as the son — and former teaching cohort — of the late John McAleer, one of BC’s most popular and acclaimed English professors.

And now, Andrew McAleer has added still another credential to his list. He recently returned from active duty with the US Army in Afghanistan, where he served as a combat historian, chronicling the exploits and adventures of the men and women of America’s front-line military units for the Center for Military History in Washington, DC.

“We travelled all around Afghanistan to meet up with units at combat outposts and operating bases to see what they were up to,” McAleer explains. “We would study a task force and determine what they were doing operationally and then maybe pick out some soldiers who we thought were operationally savvy and travel out to wherever they were embedded. We would stay with them for a week or so at a time, conducting oral interviews with them, maybe taking a few pictures.

“The interviews were really to supplement or support the data we would collect to preserve history.”

While in Afghanistan, McAleer’s unit was attached to two of the Army’s premier combat units, the 1st Cavalry Division and, later, the 1st Infantry Division.

“I had a great experience out there, I really did,” McAleer says. “I always say that ‘If you don’t capture it now, it’s history.’ I was able to communicate pretty well with the officers – I guess I am used to communicating with arbitrators and judges and civil servants in my job. But, I did feel more comfortable with the enlisted guys and I think that’s where you get some of the great stories. Those are the guys who are in the thick of it. I am in awe of the men and women who serve over there. Believe me, it wasn’t always a picnic for them.”

McAleer’s path to becoming a military historian is as complex and twisted as the plots of the mystery novels he analyzes in his Master Sleuths classes in WCAS. After earning a degree in English and philosophy at BC, he worked in the health care service industry for several years before enrolling at Massachusetts School of Law. He financed his legal studies by operating a landscaping business in his hometown of Lexington.

After earning his law degree, McAleer worked in private practice from 1997 until 2008 when he accepted an appointment as a prosecutor with the Massachusetts Department of Correction.

McAleer says that he always had military service in the back of his mind, and at age 41 – a time when most career soldiers are contemplating retirement – he joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard. “You always have to do these things while you are still young,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not ready for middle age yet. I had always wanted to serve and I said to myself, ‘You can do it.’

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Andrew McAleer (Photo by Caitlin Cunningham)

“I can still run and I can still do pushups,” he says. “I went through a lot of tests and passed them all. I originally enlisted as a combat engineer, but as I went through my training they thought I might be a little better suited for public affairs and so I switched over.”

McAleer, who also had his own mystery novel, Fatal Deeds, published in 2010, ended up as part of a three-person Military History Detachment in Worcester that was called up for active duty deployment to Afghanistan later that year. He served in the war zone from December of 2011 until the unit rotated home this past October.

This semester, McAleer has returned to the BC teaching assignment that began 10 years ago when former WCAS Dean James A. Woods, SJ, asked Andrew to join his father in the classroom to co-teach his Dad’s popular “Master Sleuths” course. The elder McAleer was suffering from cancer at the time and died halfway through the semester.

“He died on a Wednesday morning,” Andrew recalls. “Wednesday was always his late teaching night and sure enough we had a class scheduled that night. I asked myself, “What would Dad do?’

"To my father, the students were always the most important part of teaching,” he says. “I ended up teaching the class that night.”

McAleer has continued to teach crime fiction courses for the past decade. “There are so many different genres within the mystery genre,” he says. “It’s hard to encapsulate every aspect of crime literature into just one course.”

McAleer says his real life experiences have been fortified by his BC classroom connections. “One of the things that I feel is most fulfilling about the Woods College is what I end up learning from the students. I have had students who have been police officers, librarians, even a former Navy SEAL and a Hurricane Katrina survivor.

“I think that these real life experiences add an incredible dynamic to the class. It’s great when you are teaching crime fiction and you have a police officer in the room who can tell you what it is really like to pull somebody over at three in the morning.

“I can only hope that what I can pass on with my war experiences and as a prosecutor will also add to our discussions,” he says. “In the end, we have some very important tasks ahead — like helping Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple and Jack Reacher catch some bad guys.”