EDINBURGH, Ind. — The first group of 1,000 evacuees from Afghanistan began arriving at Camp Atterbury Thursday evening.
The federal military training base will process up to 5,000 evacuees before they relocate in the United States.
Camp Atterbury is in Edinburgh, a little town in southern Johnson County.
"The professionalism of Task Force Atterbury, as they prepared to receive Afghan evacuees, is nothing short of impressive," said Brig. Gen. Knell, Commander. "The multi-agency, multi-component effort ensured we were ready to welcome them with open arms, providing dignity and respect to all."
The Department of Defense said at least 50,000 Afghan evacuees would be accommodated nationwide in permanent or temporary structures as quickly as possible.
"As a Hoosier, I could not be more proud of our troops and active-duty soldiers who came together to help our Afghan allies in support of this mission," said Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles, the Indiana National Guard adjutant general.
"I'm just not really too concerned about it,” said Edinburgh Town Manager Dan Cartwright. “But we're prepared, and we are going to do what we can do to support the United States government and Camp Atterbury."
Cartwright said he has been thoroughly briefed by the military about the relocation mission at Camp Atterbury, just four miles down the road to the west. He expects minimal impact on Edinburgh.
"We have worked extremely hard and put forth a deliberate planning process to mitigate the pressure outside of Camp Atterbury to the local community," said Brigadier General Dale Lyles, the adjutant general of the Indiana National Guard.
Edinburgh is a small town with a population of less than 5,000. You can walk right up the middle of Main Street in the middle of the day with no traffic. If 5,000 Afghan evacuees come to Camp Atterbury, that more than doubles the population.
The lunch crowd at Big Red's Place appreciates the importance of Camp Atterbury to the local economy. Germaine Baur has worked in Edinburgh almost 20 years, the same length of time some of these evacuees have worked with the United States in Afghanistan.
"I think if we're using them for our use over there and then they are threatened because what we were trying to accomplish didn't happen, then we have a responsibility to help those people save their lives, basically,” Baur said. "I'm hoping that our government does what they say they're going to do. Vet them, do whatever they need to do. I don't think we need to have terrorists living here. So, if they are truly refugees in fear of their life, then sure, they have as much right to be here as anybody else does."
"These immigrants have lost their homes,” Cartwright said. “They've lost everything. They've got to escape from Afghanistan, and they’re allies. They all have been vetted. By the time they are released, they will have been vetted three different times at three different locations. They’ve all got visas. They're not the enemy. They fought side by side with us for 20 years, and the United States has responsibility to support them."
The evacuees will live at Camp Atterbury for up to nine weeks. After a 14-day medical screening with immunizations, they could be free to begin a new life anywhere in the United States.
"We're going to deepen this cause and we're going to try to help them become assimilated into America and to become Americans just like the rest of us,” said Lyles.
"Some of the employers around town who are having trouble filling positions will hopefully be impacted positively if they can come and work for us,” Baur said.
But Cartwright expects few of the evacuees to stay permanently in Edinburgh.
"There's not a lot of places for people to live, new people like this, to live in Edinburgh,” Cartwright said. “But I don't expect a lot of them settling in Edinburgh, to be honest with you, based on the briefings that I've had."
Cartwright held an initial meeting Thursday afternoon with faith organizations and other agencies to begin coordinating how donations can be organized to assist the evacuees. The Indiana National Guard is also collecting information from those who want to help by calling 317-247-3559.