Punki Duhaime, owner of Punki-s Shear Perfection salon in Plattsburgh, clutches a photo of her husband, Pat, a Navy Reserves senior chief serving his first tour of duty in Iraq. A family friend and the salon staff recently transformed her store in military-style holiday decor in honor of Duhaime and the thousands of others currently serving overseas.

PLATTSBURGH -- For more than two decades, Pat Duhaime and his best friend, Gary Amell, have decorated Punki's Shear Perfection salon for the holidays.

But this year, as the Plattsburgh man serves his first tour of duty in Iraq, Amell got a helping hand from salon employees, who tackled this season's decorations with a sentimental flair that's caught the eyes of customers and area residents.

"We've had so many comments on it," said Pat's wife and salon owner Punki Duhaime.

From the outside, two large American flags, donated free-of-charge by Woodsman of the World, hang patriotically near a life-size Santa adorned in military-style decor.

For those who venture into the upbeat Halsey Court salon, they are greeted by a large Christmas tree radiating shimmers of red, white and blue.

American flags, patriotic ornaments and yellow ribbons cover the tree in honor of all local troops, especially Duhaime, a Clinton County Highway Department foreman who's fondly known to salon employees as "Uncle Pat."

A Navy Reserves senior chief, Duhaime embarked on his tour in August, about eight months after his Rhode Island-based unit was activated and sent to California for training.

"It's his life; he loves it and he's proud of what he's doing. He knows he's making a difference," said Punki, who met her husband in Las Vegas earlier this year to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary before he went overseas.

Paula Ashline, a nine-year salon hairstylist who coordinated the store's transformation in late November, said she thought of the idea shortly after Duhaime left for Anbar province.

"We gave Punki the day off and got everything ready. The store was a mess that day, but we really wanted it to be perfect when she got back."

For Punki, her staff's efforts have helped to make her husband's absence a little easier.

"My staff is so good to me. They take the extra step and do everything they can to make it easier for me and my family," Punki said.

The 25-year salon owner said the well-wishes of strangers and support of others has also helped her cope with her husband's absence.

"I've had so much support from the community. It's been unbelievable how many people, a lot of whom I don't even know, have been so supportive. And it means so much."

She said she can only feel lucky after hearing about the daily life in Iraq and the life-changing troubles of acquaintances at home.

"This has definitely changed me, and it's been hard at times, but it's really made me realize how much we can take for granted. When people worry about me or ask how I'm doing, I always tell them I'm doing well.'"

"I know he's coming home, so I'm doing OK."

E-mail Andrea VanValkenburg at:

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