A soldier's homecoming is made even sweeter by his family-of-faith. Staff Sergeant Steve Vanderhoff is home in Bartlesville for two weeks before he returns to Iraq. News On 6 reporter Chris Wright reports why Vanderhoff says the entire time he was overseas he believes he had a guardian angel back on the homefront.
Before he left for Iraq in November, Steve came up with a 'wish list' of items he thought he might need. That's where his church came in, its members raised the necessary money, and were able to give him thousands of dollars of equipment to help keep him safe. Abundant Life in Bartlesville is a small church, and with only 200 members, everyone in the congregation knows everyone else, so no one hesitated to give when one of their own needed help.
"People began to pray about what to give, how much to give, so we could get everything he actually wanted," Pastor Danice Foster said.
What Sergeant Vanderhoff wanted was body armor.
"The body armor the Army provides, but some of the equipment isn't the latest and greatest," he said.
Church members responded raising more than enough money to purchase the latest and greatest. They contributed $2,900; meaning Steve could also afford to buy a personal GPS system, heavy-duty combat gloves and prescription safety sunglasses. He even had enough left over to get a digital camera and an MP3 player.
Family members say the extra equipment meant the world to Steve.
"For him to go over and serve our country, but to have people here honor him that way, and help take care of his family in his absence, I just think it's awesome," said Steveâ€™s wife Michele Vanderhoff.
After returning unscathed after nearly four months in Iraq, Steve was again honored during a homecoming celebration Saturday. And the members of Abundant Life Church are sending Steve back to Iraq with something else this time, everyone at his party filled out a card for Steve. He will take those cards back to Iraq and open one each day heâ€™s overseas. The church congregation will also continue to send regular care packages and e-mails to Steve. They say they view each other as family, so helping out comes naturally.
"If it's a member of your family, you would want them to have everything that they needed," Foster said.
Sergeant Vanderhoff is a member of the Civil Affairs Battalion; he heads back to Iraq next week. Unfortunately he will not be back in the United States again until the later part of this year or early next year.