Officials on Monday marked the winding down of work at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury training base that has helped resettle about 7,200 Afghan refugees in the U.S. since September.
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb called the resettlement operation “one of Indiana’s finest hours” in helping those who fled Afghanistan after the country’s American-backed government was overthrown by the Taliban in August.
The last of the remaining 200 refugees at Camp Atterbury were expected to depart for resettlement assignments by the end of this week, said Aaron Batt, a federal Department of Homeland Security coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome.
Camp Atterbury, about 25 miles south of Indianapolis, was among eight sites in the U.S. that the Department of Defense selected to temporarily house some 75,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan, including people who aided the American war effort in that country and their families.
Indiana Adjutant General Dale Lyles said he spent nearly a year on deployment to Afghanistan, and four Indiana soldiers under his command were killed there. Lyles said he was glad the Indiana Guard could help so many Afghans start a new life in the U.S.
“This today, it’s very heartwarming for me, it’s very healing for me,” Lyles said.
About 700 of the Afghan evacuees were expected to be resettled in Indiana, although they could come from any of the eight temporary housing sites across the country.
Officials had initially expected to complete the resettlement work at Camp Atterbury by early November, but they said that was delayed because of limited resettlement agency resources and COVID-19 precautions.
Efforts at the camp were boosted by what officials called an outpouring of donated goods such as food, winter coats, clothing and toys to help the refugees acclimate.
“Hoosiers quickly prepared to play a part in helping those fleeing the conflict happening halfway across the world,” said Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Pence, whose district includes much of Camp Atterbury. “They proved to be ready to help the thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan who faced grim and uncompromising circumstances.
Holcomb said he was proud of the humanitarian work that was carried out.
“I think about this journey, that these 7,200 that found their way to Indiana, this journey away from oppression and a war-torn country to this place of peace and promise,” Holcomb said. “These were giant steps in lives.”