Operation Handshake welcomes heroes home for Thanksgiving

Operation Handshake
Volunteers line the concourse at Gerald R. Ford International Airport to welcome military members home as part of Operation Handshake. (Nov. 23, 2016)


CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Hundreds of volunteers filled the Gerald R. Ford International airport on Thanksgiving eve to make military family reunions even more special.

Operation Handshake is in its eighth year. People of all ages lined the concourse Wednesday to thank active service members and veterans who landed in Grand Rapids for the holiday, as part of Operation Handshake.

The campaign is in its eighth year, but this was the first time many children joined the effort to show their appreciation.

“These kids are awesome. We have Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, all kinds of clubs and a few years back we didn’t have any kids out here. Now they just come in droves,” said organizer and Patriot Guard rider Tony Van Gessel.

Military members and their families were greeted by a color guard, cheers and thank you notes.

“You see the tears in their eyes. They just tear up because finally someone is saying thank you for what they’re doing,” Van Gessel said. “They’re saying welcome home. Thank you for your service. Thank you for protecting us. That’s what they’re doing.”

Those interested in joining Operation Handshake, are invited to join the Patriot Guard Riders at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport on Dec. 23 to welcome veterans and active military members home for Christmas. For more information on how you can get involved, visit Operation Handshake’s website.