Dozens of people applauded and cheered as a fatigue-wearing Mayor Pete Buttigieg arrived in the South Bend International Airport's passenger terminal Thursday night.
Buttigieg hugged family members, city leaders and former Gov. Joe Kernan who greeted his return to the city he left in late February to serve as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer.
"A welcome like this reminds me that not everybody I was with out there got that," Buttigieg told the crowd. "Some of them had to go home the other way. So above all we just have a huge debt of gratitude for everybody who came before us — all the veterans who are here and all the folks who are still there right now because the war's not over."
Buttigieg said his work in Afghanistan included trying to block narcotics trade money from reaching insurgents.
Buttigieg said he expected he'll return to the mayor's office Oct. 6 after finishing the final administrative steps of his deployment next week.
Deputy Mayor Mark Neal has filled in as acting mayor during his deployment.
The 32-year-old Democrat, who joined the Navy Reserve in 2009, was elected mayor of the 100,000-person city in 2011. He was the unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state treasurer in 2010.
Buttigieg said he was looking forward to resuming his work as mayor.
"I can't tell you how good it feels to be back," he said. "It's the best job in the world, and not that I ever did, but I'll never take it for granted going forward."