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Ford Airport preps for Thanksgiving with Operation Handshake

A patriotic welcome home for West Michigan troops.
Credit: Ford Airport

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As Thanksgiving nears, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) is prepping for the busy surge of travelers it will see the next few days. 

Particularly on Wednesday, Nov. 27, where airport volunteers, including a therapy dog, and the Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers put on Operation Handshake.

It's a patriotic welcome home for soldiers and other military members from West Michigan. Volunteers stand at both airport concourse exits from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. to welcome military members and veterans home and thank them for their service. 

"We know that not every military member can make it home during the holidays because they are making other sacrifices for our nation. For those returning to West Michigan we want to make it extra special and let them know we are thankful for their service," said GFIA President & CEO Tory Richardson. 

"The Patriot Guard Riders of West Michigan and the Blue Star Mothers do a tremendous job taking time out of their holiday week to welcome home our military, and we appreciate their loyalty to our community through events like Operation Handshake," Richardson said. 

The annual event is free and open to the public. If you have a military family member coming home Wednesday, notify the Patriot Guard Riders of returning military members' arrival times and flight information. Information can be sent to Tony VanGessel at 616-862-1984 or tvange58@yahoo.com.

"This is what Thanksgiving is really all about," said VanGessel, Captain of the Patriot Guard Riders of West Michigan. 

"What we see each year is an inspiration. We get a thank you from the military members, but it's also heartwarming for the general traveling public around us to see what happens with just a simple salute, handshake, or a thank you."

For more information on the Patriot Guard Riders, visit their website

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