Editor’s Note: Dorchester is home to scores of young men and women who have left behind friends and family members to serve the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. To highlight their stories, the Reporter’s new column, “Over There,” will feature a new Dorchester service member ever week. Readers are invited to send in suggestions for men and women to profile by sending an email to Corey Burns at email@example.com.
As a member of the Army National Guard, James Lunnin, 21, of Adams Village is currently serving overseas in Gardez, Afghanistan.
Lunnin works as a member of a security force for a provincial reconstruction team (PRT) in the Paktiya Province, providing personal security for engineers, mechanics, medics, and administrative personnel who work to boost Afghanistan’s infrastructure. Much of the PRT’s responsibilities include engaging locals and assessing transportation, health care, security, and education in their respective provinces.
“It’s a pretty big strain on you mentally,” Lunnin says. “Having to guard and be vigilant for long hours at a time in static positions, or traveling down dangerous routes knowing something could happen at anytime, but you remind yourself that it’s your job and the person next to you is expecting you to be giving it 110 percent, and vice versa.”
Lunnin began his career in the armed forces at the age of 18 – enlisting in the Army National Guard so he could keep living in Dorchester, he says. He enlisted as a combat engineer and was off to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. When he returned to Massachusetts, he served briefly with an engineer unit out of Whitinsville, Mass. – an outfit that was not going to be deployed anytime soon.
“After six months of drill I felt useless knowing I wasn’t going to deploy for a while in that unit,” Lunnin said. “But eventually my opportunity came along when I found out the 181st Infantry battalion was deploying to Afghanistan. I didn’t waste anytime once I found out about the deployment and when I heard they were looking for volunteers.”
Lunnin signed on to Charlie Company of the 181st Infantry Battalion out of Cambridge and was off to Afghanistan.
“When I found out that James was heading over to Afghanistan I went through mixed emotions,” says James’ mother, Linda Shaugnessy, who still remembers when her son would crawl on his stomach through the house playing “army man” with his grandfather – a Korean War veteran.
“I know my dad would be so proud of him if he was alive to see the strong young man that James has become,” she says. Lunnin now credits his grandfather for his ambition in joining the service.
“Of course, just like any other mother, I was extremely worried. Since James has been in Afghanistan, my emotions went from being worried and being sad without him home to being extremely proud of my son. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t worry but I know in my heart that he will be coming home safe and sound to me, my family, and his friends very soon. I can’t wait for that day to come.”
Lunnin traces many of his longstanding friendships back to when he moved to Minot Street in Dorchester from South Boston at the age of 13.
He recalls the first time he went out with a friend from Dorchester: “We went to the Papa Gino’s down the street. He mentioned we would be meeting up with a couple other people, but that wasn’t the case, when I got there, the next thing I knew I’m meeting 20 kids.”
As a 13-year-old in a new neighborhood, his newfound friends and supporters meant much to him. Lunnin developed a bond with his Dorchester pals and spent most of his youth down Garvey Park, loving it there because “there was always something to do, playing basketball, baseball, Wiffle ball with all your friends, what else could a kid want?”
Lunnin met many people growing up as a teenager and developed life-long friendships, including those with fellow service members Shane Burns and Chris Conley.
“I made friends, met their friends, made more friends, everyone knew everyone. In my opinion, that’s what makes Dorchester one of the greatest places to grow up,” Lunnin says.
That sense of friendship has followed Lunnin to Gardez in the form of countless care packages and cards residents have sent to the young soldier and the other members of his battalion.
Lunnin’s mother also said members of the Old Dorchester Post have been extremely generous during the holidays, sending gifts to help make the mountains of Afghanistan feel that much closer to home during the cold winter months.
James’ journey home is scheduled to begin early July. He hopes to be back home to his friends and family before August.