The temperature soared to the mid-80s late Friday afternoon on the steps of the Masten Armory, but Army National Guard Spc. Pat Hahn of Kenmore was cool as a cucumber in his fatigues and dark shades following a 10-month tour in Iraq.
"This is like morning [in Iraq]," said Hahn, 20.
He was one of 10 members of the New York Army National Guard's 206th Military Police Company who were greeted at the armory by elated family and friends upon their return home. They were part of a unit of more than 160 members who entered active duty a year ago and deployed to Basra, Iraq, last August.
"We got the job done," Pat Hahn said of their mission in Iraq. "It changed my life."
About an hour earlier, Hahn's girlfriend, Samantha Yorko of Kenmore, stood in the blazing sun on the steps of the armory, excitedly clutching a homemade sign that read simply: "Welcome home, Pat." She was joined by Pat Hahn's twin brother, Ed, and their mother, Sara.
"I can't wait to feed him," said Sara Hahn, as she sought refuge from the sun behind a parked, oversized military vehicle.
Maj. Keith Tryon, operations officer for the 153rd Troop Command, was the first to greet the returning soldiers after their bus, escorted by a State Police cruiser, arrived from Fort Dix, N.J.
"On behalf of the 153rd Troop Command, thank you. Good job. Dismissed," Tryon said, before the soldiers broke ranks to hug their waiting loved ones.
"It's always exciting to have returning soldiers," Tryon said later.
"They did a great job in Iraq. They were in Basra helping to train the Iraqi police. They also provided security for the elections that were held in April," he added.
Those who were awaiting the return of their loved ones Friday acknowledged that the year-long separation was difficult at times, but made less so with the advent of new technology.
Nicole Saleh of Olean said her boyfriend, Spc. Jack Marvin, 23, kept in daily contact with either her or his parents, Nancy and Bret Marvin, of Allegany, through instant-messaging and texting.
"I made him write me [a handwritten] letter once," Saleh said, with a laugh.
Spc. John Wallace Buchanan, 23, of Cassadaga in Chautauqua County, was greeted by his parents, John and Kim; his sister, Charissa; and younger brother, Macalum, 15.
"I'm elated that he's home, and right before Father's Day. You couldn't ask for more. It's a great gift," the father said.
"I'm very proud of what he's accomplished over there. The things he tells us, he's getting a lot done with the Iraqi people, helping them to rebuild their country. He really enjoyed working with the kids."
"It's amazing [to be back]," Buchanan said.
"I guess it all hasn't hit me yet, but when I get home, see my house and see my dogs, then it'll sink in. I'm already wondering what my teammates [back] in Iraq are doing. I got really close to my team, super close.
"We'd been living in a tent for a year and together we've been through concerns about our girlfriends, breakups, birthdays, holidays and all that stuff. You get close and it creates an unbreakable bond," the returning soldier added.
The 206th Military Police Company is headquartered in Latham, near Albany, but it includes soldiers assigned from all areas of the state.
Buchanan said he is looking forward to attending college in the fall and then joining a local police department.
Minutes after greeting his family, Pat Hahn was already biting into a slice of pizza, but his mother, Sara, was anxious to get going.
"Come on, you guys," she yelled to his brother Ed, and girlfriend, Samantha.
"Let's get him home. There's probably like 16 people on the porch waiting for him," Sara Hahn said.
Pat Hahn, a graduate of Cardinal O'Hara High School, said he is planning to attend Buffalo State College in the fall.