A Green Country town has something to be especially thankful for this Thanksgiving. While most of us were finishing our last minute preparations for the holiday, dozens of Chouteau residents were lining the street for Staff Sergeant Brittany Lenhardt Wednesday night.
Lenhardt just returned home after spending six months with the Air Force in Afghanistan. She arrived stateside in Texas Wednesday morning and then drove six hours to Oklahoma for a surprise homecoming.
Like many small, sleepy towns in Oklahoma, Main Street in Chouteau isn't very busy, but on this frigid night, just hours before Thanksgiving, more than 50 friends, family and complete strangers gathered to say thanks to a hometown girl from the Afghan War.
"She's always been the kind of person that cares about other people more than herself," said Cerita Tweed, of Lenhardt's childhood friends.
Tweed helped organize the last minute event as soon as she got news her friend would be home for the holidays.
"Just to see her with her little girl back in her arms, it's going to mean the world to her. That's it--getting them back together," Tweed said. "It's actually pretty cool, because we didn't know she was going to be here."
Mayes County Deputy Jonathan Bailey is Lenhardt's younger brother. He's been helping the family take care of 3-year-old Zoe, not only while her mom's away, but her dad, too. Lenhardt's husband is stationed in Kuwait.
"She's my big sister, she's always taken care of me," Bailey said.
And when the Mayes County Sheriff's Department heard his sister was coming home, they gave him permission to escort her car into Chouteau from the county line. But even with fire trucks, friends and former teachers on hand, the only thing on this military mom's mind was her little girl.
"It's heartwarming. My brother escorting us in. I had tears in my eyes," Lenhardt said. "I figured I'd eventually see everybody, I didn't think it would be right when I got home."
But Lenhardt's heart is still with the some 50,000 troops that won't be home for the holidays, especially her husband, Henry, little Zoe's father.
"I didn't except this at all, and I told Zoe, "We're going to start the clock for when daddy comes home," Lenhardt said.
Lenhardt said one of the first things she plans to do is have a late birthday party for Zoe, after missing it earlier this year. She said her husband should be back stateside sometime in the spring.