EDINBURGH, Ind. – Camp Atterbury helped resettle 7,201 evacuees during “Operation Allies Welcome.” Now, only 14 remain—and they’re due to leave in the coming days.
The effort helped 7,201 guests resettle in 45 different states across the U.S. The massive operation, needed in the wake of the frantic U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, required coordination on a federal, state and local level among numerous agencies and departments.
Camp Atterbury accepted its first guests on Sept. 1. It would eventually host 7,201, teaching them about life in the U.S. and working to prepare them with job training and life skills for what lies ahead.
Aaron Batt, federal coordinator of Operation Allies Welcome Camp Atterbury, said all guests received vaccinations (measles, mumps, flu, COVID-19, etc.) and acknowledged additional challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, which he termed a “major concern.”
The site provided COVID testing for evacuees, along with testing for staff and volunteers. Batt said Camp Atterbury avoided a major COVID-19 outbreak, noting that more than 60,000 tests were given with a positivity rate of less than 1%.
According to Batt, more than half of adults took advantage of various classes offered during the resettlement effort, with the most popular course by far being an English class. About 1,500 evacuees took advantage of legal services.
“This week will conclude the federal government and DOD’s portion for support of Operation Allies welcome at Camp Atterbury,” Batt said.
Federal officials said the 2.6 million items that were donated to the evacuees to see them through their first Indiana winter outstripped other resettlement sites as 64,000 doses of vaccines were administered, 1.3 million meals were served, 60,000 COVID tests were conducted with a positivity rate of less than one percent and 50% of all the evacuees participated in life skills training while English language classes were attended 20,000 times.
“I just want to thank all our Hoosiers and anyone and everyone who helped make that possible,” Batt said. “There were, of course, several things that we as the federal government tried to provide, but the general public stepped in and provided most of those things.”
Batt said the effort required a network of local, state and federal organizations and volunteers.
Rep. Pence, who said evacuees faced “grim and uncompromising circumstances,” visited Camp Atterbury multiple times. He said he was touched by Hoosier hospitality and kindness.
“Hoosiers were ready,” Pence said. “That’s the best part of Indiana, as you all well know. Whether it was members of the Indiana National Guard or the countless neighbors across our community who donated supplies for evacuees, Hoosiers proved their ready hospitality.”
“These were giant steps in the lives to get to this very point and then to cast out their own vision and do that,” Holcomb said. “Indiana is indeed proud that we’ve been all collectively, from different walks, from different places, that we’ve been called on to carry out this unprecedented humanitarian effort.”
Holcomb said the evacuees had been targeted with “ruthless violence” and were uncertain if they’d survive to live in a place like the U.S.
“So as this joint mission does conclude, I do just want to repeat what you’ve heard. It never would’ve happened without the constant cooperation and collaboration and commitment of those who cared outside their own space and place.”