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Operation Handshake will welcome veterans, active duty military at Ford Airport

Veterans PTSD
Posted at 11:11 AM, Nov 23, 2021

CASCADE, Mich. — Active military members and veterans will receive a patriotic welcome home Wednesday with the return of Operation Handshake at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

In its sixth year, the daylong event will feature veterans groups lining the airport’s concourse exits to greet and thank military members and veterans returning to West Michigan, a news release said Tuesday.

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders and Blue Star Mothers will be there from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to greet the honored travelers, waving American flags and offering words of thanks and singing patriotic songs.

“The Ford Airport is proud to welcome our troops and veterans back home,” said Lisa Carr, public safety and operations director for the airport. “It is important we recognize our service members for all that they do – and have done – for our country. As a huge supporter of active and retired military, I am especially proud of our participation in Operation Handshake.”

Operation Handshake is free and open to the public.

Masks will need to be worn at all times by airport guests age 2 and older, per federal requirements.

Loved ones of military members and veterans traveling through Ford Airport on Wednesday are encouraged to participate in Operation Handshake and provide flight information to Patriot Guard Riders, including arrival time.

Information should be sent to Phil Pakiela via email at or by phone at 616-916-3064.

“It is hard to put into words how much it means to see the expression on a veteran’s face as they are greeted by a flag line and rendered a salute in their honor,” said Philip Pakiela, captain of the Patriot Guard Riders of West Michigan. “So many of them have been forgotten – we don’t ever want that to happen again. We want our active-duty military and veterans as well as their families to know they are appreciated.”

New this year is Operation Gratitude, a thank-you letter campaign that encourages airport tenants and guests to share their appreciation for deployed troops, veterans, wounded heroes, caregivers and recruits. The airport is providing note cards to tenants this month, collecting the messages of gratitude and delivering them to active military personnel.

Guests at the airport on Wednesday will have an opportunity to write notes of thanks and drop them in a box located in the Amway Grand Hall.