EDINBURGH, Ind. — 13News got its first look inside Afghan living conditions at Camp Atterbury Thursday.
About 6,700 Afghans are housed at the military base in Johnson County. Most of them arrived in the first week of September.
Atterbury is full of children, curious, playful, and friendly. 40 percent of the Afghans there are age 14 or younger. Ten babies have been born since Afghans starting arriving Sept. 2.
The woman and children live in the same dormitories, which house about 120 people in bunk beds. Men live in separate dorms, but families are housed on the same block, which are called mayor's cells.
Capacity is 7,000 people. Soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas, are staffing most of the operation. One soldier assigned here who served in Afghanistan was reunited with his interpreter. Sgt. First Class Richard Hernandez from San Antonio, Texas says he recognized the man who helped keep him alive and out of trouble in Afghanistan as he stepped off the bus arriving at Camp Atterbury.
"At first I didn't believe it and I'm going to touch his shoulder,” said Hernandez. “I was like 'Hey, Ali.' He looked at me - instant recognition. We hugged it out. Everybody around us was like, ‘What's going on?’ We're just for a while just mind blown that we just met again - him coming from there, me being in charge of his cell. And then there he was. I was able to meet his family.”
Ali is one of 330 Afghans who have already left the base permanently with clearance. Everyone else is working toward work authorization, humanitarian parole and resettlement.
"Everything is going well but waiting because there's so many people,” said Aziz Sadat, a former Afghan government worker. “People are waiting for a long time. There are quite a few people who have relatives living around the nation. They can go. And there's other people who have nobody and they’re waiting. They’re afraid that they’re going to wait longer because they don’t have any place to go."
Sulaman and Arzo Akbarzada got married just last weekend at Atterbury. They fled Afghanistan on their first wedding day. Arzo’s father worked with the Afghan army, so they believed she and her family were in danger under Taliban rule.
Sulaman is a skilled electrician and plumber awaiting his work authorization.
"I want to go to San Diego,” said Sulaman. “But it's United States. Everything can be possible. So, I wish to go over there. But maybe they won’t find a house for us there. They can put us anywhere they want. I just want to be in peace."
46,000 vaccinations have been given. Another 30,000 are expected. Flu shots start Sunday at Atterbury. The equivalent of an urgent care center provides basic medical and mental health care on site. Ambulances are on standby on site to provide transport to anyone requiring hospitalization.
20,000 culturally-adapted meals are served every day at two dining halls, with menu input from Afghans who serve on a “food council”.
Children and adults take classes to learn English and American culture. The Department of Homeland Security does not have a timetable for the length of Operation Allies Welcome. Camp Atterbury is one of eight U.S. military installations providing temporary housing to Afghans who fled their homeland.
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