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For one NH soldier returning from Afghanistan, a special greeting

CONCORD -- Daddy's home from Afghanistan.

Army National Guard Spc. Derek Dutcher witnessed, thanks to the Internet, his wife giving birth about three months ago while he was stationed more than 6,000 miles away. But nothing compared with hugging his son, Declan, for the first time Thursday.

"A feeling I'll never feel again," the Concord dad said at a welcome-home ceremony at the New Hampshire Army National Guard building.

His wife, Rebecca, said their son served as a reminder of Derek during the months her husband was away.

"I had a piece of him with me at all times," she said.

Dutcher was among 110 returning soldiers of the 237th Military Police Company, deployed to Afghanistan for nine months and returning home Thursday. The company reported no injuries or deaths. (See related story, Page

Soldiers shipped out last Valentine's Day and spent Christmas away from home before returning stateside to Fort Bliss, Texas, over the past few weeks.

Erica Lavoie of Nashua welcomed home her husband, Spc. Joshua Lavoie. No one was complaining about the Christmas tree remaining up in mid-January.

"We're celebrating tonight," she said. Her husband's gifts included an acoustic guitar and a family trip to a water park in North Conway.

Lt. Ryan Short of Colebrook missed more basic things.

"Just the scenery and the air," the state trooper said.

Afghanistan "was very desolate and not a whole lot to look at and not the best-smelling place," he said. "To smell New Hampshire air is overwhelming."

Short said his duties included security and investigations, similar tasks to those state troopers perform.

Afghanistan's summer days topped 120 degrees at times and winter highs remained in the 80s, a long way from the snow and sub-zero chill found in the North Country.

"I'm not ready to feel the cold," Short said.

The company's accomplishments included conducting more than 9,000 U.S. Customs inspections, clearing billions of dollars of military equipment to be shipped stateside, working daily with Slovak and Romanian soldiers conducting law and order operations, and building and manning a Provost Marshal's Office substation.

Spc. Bradley Estabrook also missed his daughter's birth, but was ready to make up for lost time.

"I've been waiting for this for a long time," said the Epping dad, who works security at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover.

His seven-month-old daughter, Ellie, greeted her father wearing a pink shirt reading "Daddy's Girl."

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