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HOUSTON – University of Houston Football letterman and Sgt. 1st Class Sam Hairston was killed earlier this week in Ghazni, Afghanistan when his unit took small-arms fire from the enemy, the Defense Department announced Wednesday.

Hairston, 35, competed as a linebacker and defensive lineman with Houston Football from 1997 to 2000. He competed in 42 games during that time, posting 55 tackles with four sacks, an interception and fumble recovery.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Sam Hairston and express our greatest condolences to his wife, Tawana, son, Hayden, extended family and wide circle of friends. Sam was not only a valuable member of the Houston family but an American hero," Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack Rhoades said. "He is an inspiration to all of us and will always be remembered as a great Cougar. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sam's family and friends.

Hairston joined the Cougars after an award-winning prep career at Choctawhatchee High School, near his hometown of Shalimar, Fla. He was team captain and Most Valuable Player and was an All-District 1-6A First-Team and All-State 6A Second-Team selection as a senior.

Hairston was a paratrooper and platoon sergeant with A Company, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, N.C.

Hairston joined the Army in 2003 and completed the basic airborne course at Fort Benning, Ga. He was assigned to 1st BCT in August 2013.

His awards included the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Army Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Citation with two oak leaf clusters, Army Good Conduct Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, Iraqi Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Among his qualifications were the Ranger tab, Combat Infantryman Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Military Master Free Fall Parachutist Badge and the Basic Parachutist Badge.

Hairston is survived by his wife, Staff Sgt. Tawana Hairston, and his son, Hayden.

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