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Arizona National Guard unit returns from Afghanistan

PHOENIX — There was a big welcome on Thursday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

Cheers erupted when members the Arizona National Guard’s 1/158th Infantry Battalion arrived home from Afghanistan.

A Phoenix firefighter and a Gilbert police officer were both part of the unit.

Dozens of firefighters were there to welcome their co-worker, Justin Dougherty, back home. Dougherty said the unit trained Afghan police.

“We all worked together, we fought hard together,” he said. “We lost some Afghans.”

Dougherty said when they happened he found out that “everybody cries just like we do.”

Justin’s mom, Kathy Williams, was fighting back tears after seeing her son.

“My son’s been gone for 266 days and he’s home today,” she said. She then choked up, breathed a sigh of relief, and was emotional as she said, “He’s home safe.”

Dougherty said he’s pretty proud to be part of the military.

“This is a volunteer service,” he said. “This is a volunteer military. That’s what makes the United States great. Just the fact that you have a bunch of people willing to raise their hand and put themselves in harm’s way is a testament to our society and our freewill spirit.”

Dougherty believes that his experience in Afghanistan will make him a better firefighter.

Gilbert police officer Andy Bates said that spending time in Afghanistan was tough.

“It was frustrating,” he said. “But we saw some success and I enjoyed my opportunity to serve.”

Bates said being a police officer was helpful in the mission to train Afghan police.

“Our mission in Afghanistan this time was to train the police there, to try and legitimize them and create stability in the region through training,” he said. “It was a good segue with what I do with the Gilbert Police Department. But I sure did miss the Gilbert Police Department. They’re a wonderful family.”

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