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Updated Jun 20, 2013 - 7:42 pm

Arizona National Guard unit returns from Afghanistan

Family members of an Arizona National Guard unit await the troops' homecoming. (KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

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."

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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