CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A tradition that takes place at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport the day before Thanksgiving is Operation Handshake.

For the 6th year, military members and veterans received a warm welcome home from a group gathered at the airport.

It’s the chance to offer a simple thanks for a job well done.

Volunteers gathered throughout the day at the Gerald R. Ford Airport to honor military members and veterans either returning home or visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Among them was Grand Rapids Fire Department Battalion Chief Mark Noorman, the father-in-law of an active Marine.

“Both of my daughters have come out and brought their friends. They just love coming out every year now. It’s a great thing,” said Noorman.

The tradition started in 2015 to honor those who served. The pandemic cancelled last year’s honor, but this year, the Patriot Guard Riders, Blue Star families and the public were back at the arrival gates.

An empty chair sat to honor those yet to come home — military members who are missing in action — as another reminder of the sacrifices made.  

“We just want to ring some holiday cheer and thank them for their service as they’re coming home,” said Noorman. 

The airport has also added Operation Gratitude, encouraging passengers and other guests to write thank-you notes to deployed troops, veterans, wounded heroes, caregivers and recruits. Note cards are available throughout the airport.