EDINBURGH — Federal officials say by Sept. 7, the number of Afghan evacuees at Camp Atterbury was double the population of Edinburgh.
Around 7,200 evacuees in total came to the small southern Johnson County town after fleeing Afghanistan as the United States pulled out.
“I have a message to the people of the United States and I want to say that people of the United States has a heart of the gold. Thank you so much for everything,” Nahid Sharifi said. She will soon resettle from Camp Atterbury.
Federal officials and Afghan evacuees alike shared updates from Camp Atterbury in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Community was a common thread throughout the afternoon.
“Thank you so much for everything's and I hope that I can make the world around me better place for others like me,” Sharifi said.
The young woman shared her “long and scary” journey and at times, became emotional speaking about it.
Sharifi said when she left Afghanistan, she was separated from her mother and brother. The two, she said, could not leave Afghanistan and got separated at the gate to get to the Kabul Airport. While in Germany, she then was separated from her sister and other family members.
“I was terrified [about] where they were until I hear from them [her mother and brother],” Sharifi said. She later connected them when she flew into Washington, D.C. Sharifi said she is “very excited” to start her next chapter and continue her studies at Indiana University Bloomington.
In the past two-and-a-half months, officials note thousands of evacuees resettled in cities and towns around the country – including here in Indiana. As of Nov. 23, around 4,100 evacuees remain on base.
“I’m especially grateful for the whole community approach to this whole government effort," U.S. Army Colonel Michael Grundman said. "Indiana, its communities, its individuals and organizations at the state government has been absolutely terrific to maintaining an even flow of goods of donated gifts, goods services, volunteers, linguists, dentists, phrasebooks for American soldiers. It has been a truly incredible outpouring from communities and organizations alike and I cannot stress that enough.”
Grundman is the Camp Atterbury Garrison Commander and spoke on behalf of the Department of Defense. He shared his thankfulness for the community support outside the gates of Camp Atterbury.
“Camp Atterbury has distributed almost 75% of the national donate items of the eight safe havens nationwide,” Grundman shared.
Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commissioner Fred Payne also spoke about employment opportunities for the thousands of Afghan evacuees at Camp Atterbury.
“The big picture here is that we're giving the guest an overview of what it is to work in the United States," Payne said. "Now the types of jobs and the types of industries and opportunities that exist that's what we're trying to expose them to. We're even talking about topics such as taxes, cultural expectations in the workplace. We want to make sure that the information and the time that we're spending with our guests will serve them well regardless of where they are."
He said the work done at Camp Atterbury is really an extension of what the department does across the state. The ‘Work Readiness Center’ is a unique program to Camp Atterbury with a specialized curriculum.
Payne said it through this program the department is holding individual and group meetings to connect evacuees with jobs. He added workforce experts assess evacuees on experience and what skills and education evacuees may want to pursue.
For evacuees wanting to stay in Indiana, Payne said his team is working alongside resettlement agencies to bridge evacuees “to employers in the communities where they plan to settle.”
The commissioner said more than 150 Indiana employers have connected with the DWD with some 4,000 job openings. His team is holding virtual job fairs for evacuees at Camp Atterbury.
“We're really trying to ensure that we're doing every single thing that we can to set the people and the employers up for success,” Payne said.
U.S. Ambassador Christine Elder shares the state of Indiana doubled its commitment of how many evacuees it could help.
“A number of my colleagues have gone to all of the safe havens to support the operations and to see what's going on. And increasingly, I'm hearing from those who've seen other bases, other safe-havens, and especially those who come here are referring to Indiana as “the gold standard,” Elder said.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb Holcomb is hoping the state becomes an example nationwide on what a community can do to help those in a time of need.
Holcomb later echoing that statistic: “From chaos to calm that 7,200 of our now neighbors, that journey in and of itself, that peace is priceless, and it fuels us don't want to do more.”
Holcomb said he wants to stay to help the evacuees for “as long as the need is here.”
“This is a win-win scenario from whatever perspective you have,” Holcomb said.
Hammond, Indianapolis, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Terra Haute, Bloomington and Muncie are some of several Indiana cities welcoming Afghan evacuees.
Camp Atterbury’s Federal Coordinator Aaron Batt said through Operation Allies Welcome and resettlement agencies, Indiana pledged to “host here and integrate” 719 Afghan evacuees from around the country. Right now, he said about 250 have resettled in Indiana.
Officials said there will be no additional Afghan evacuees coming to Camp Atterbury and Operation Allies Welcome will wind down by the end of this year, holidays pending.