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Emotional Send-Off at Conte Forum for Massachusetts Guard Unit

BC alumnus has special duty to fellow soldiers

Army Chaplain Lt. James Hairston ’04 offers a blessing at Sunday’s event. (Photos by Josh Levine)

By Reid Oslin | Chronicle Staff

Published: Mar. 31, 2011

“We ask God for reassurance that we will see each other again,” prayed Army Chaplain Lt. James Hairston, a 2004 Boston College graduate and ordained Baptist minister, as he offered a blessing for soldiers, family and friends of the nearly 700 members of the Massachusetts National Guard’s 182nd Battalion who prepared for deployment to Afghanistan in a touching and heartfelt ceremony at Conte Forum Sunday.  

Rev. Hairston, who will accompany the troops to the Middle East, is a Dorchester native who originally chose to attend BC because of its strong political science department, and the personal influence of Director of Undergraduate Admission John L. Mahoney Jr. Mahoney met with the young candidate three times during Rev. Hairston’s senior year at Boston’s Snowden International Charter School and encouraged him to consider applying to the University.   

Rev. Hairston is glad he followed Mahoney’s advice. “BC was a great experience,” he says. “They taught me how to look at the world through a lot of different lenses. The mantra of ‘Men and women for others’ really became ingrained in me. We are so used to being individualistic and looking only at ourselves, going to Boston College and learning self-sacrifice for the common good is something that has really helped me.”  

After graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences with his degree in political science and a double minor in economics and Black Studies, Rev. Hairston earned a master’s degree in education from Lesley University. Realizing he had been hearing the call to a religious vocation, he enrolled in the Andover-Newton Theological School, where he received a master’s in divinity and eventually became associate pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dorchester.  

After his ordination, Rev. Hairston says he heard still “another calling” – that of service to the nation. He joined the National Guard as a military chaplain, choosing that organization because of the Guard’s traditional focus on family values.   

“I will be in Afghanistan as a member of the clergy as well as a soldier,” said Rev. Hairston, although noting that chaplains do not bear arms in the military. “It’s my job to make sure that I am the moral compass and that I keep an ethical lens on all situations. When my soldiers get stressed out, it is my job to make sure that they are OK.   

“I want their families to know that I am there for them as well as for their husbands and sons and brothers,” he said prior to Sunday’s event. “I want them to know that I am going through this with them and for them to understand that God will be there with them when their soldiers are deployed.”