ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Welcoming Afghan allies is an ongoing commitment

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After a harrowing escape from their home nation last summer, some 7,200 Afghan allies of American forces passed through Camp Atterbury on their way to new homes in the United States.

Atterbury and our central Indiana community played a pivotal and exemplary role in Operation Allies Welcome. Nationwide, some 76,000 refugees were temporarily housed at eight military bases around the nation during the mission. Gov. Eric Holcomb recently announced the formal conclusion of the operation at Atterbury.

We are proud of those who served and volunteered to help refugees begin writing new chapters in their life stories here in America, 700 of them in Indiana. And we’re also proud of the larger community who put heart, soul, time, money and effort into demonstrating that Hoosier Hospitality is much more than just a phrase. It’s who we are.

It’s well-documented that the pace of giving in Indiana far exceeded similar efforts supporting refugees at bases elsewhere. More than 2.6 million items were donated to meet refugees’ temporary needs, according to Aaron Batt, Department of Homeland Security federal coordinator assigned to Atterbury.

“I just want to thank all of our Hoosiers, and anyone and everyone who made that possible,” Batt said. “There were of course several things that we as a federal government tried to provide, but the general public stepped in and provided most of those things.”

The operation was also meaningful to veterans who served in Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. R. Dale Lyles, the adjutant general for the Indiana National Guard, offered a personal take that surely speaks for many of his fellow Afghan vets. “There was a big part of me that was left in that country — we lost four of our soldiers, Indiana Hoosiers, while I was over there with my company. This goes a long way to healing some of those wounds,” Lyles said.

Afghan refugees have wounds to heal, too, and they will need help and support as they begin their journeys in this new land.

The federal government, which administered Operation Allies Welcome, has a few suggestions for some of the best ways to help, and high on the list is offering refugees employment. Because of their refugee status, Afghans are eligible for employment immediately. History shows that refugees tend to quickly become self-sufficient, and most start giving back to their communities once they are on their feet.

Another way you can help is to donate money or time to refugee resettlement organizations that have poured enormous resources into helping find new homes for Afghans. In Central Indiana, Exodus Refugee took on that role, and you can learn more about their work at exodusrefugee.org.

Also, welcome.us has gathered volunteers and local organizations and leaders from diverse backgrounds to welcome Afghans. Check out the nonprofit, nonpartisan website to read the many stories of how refugees are settling in their new homes and learn how you can help.

“Our mission is accomplished here, but we will continue to walk side-by-side with our new residents here in the state of Indiana,” Holcomb said. “This was a true team effort.”

It truly was, and that teamwork continues. To the hundreds of Afghans who are resettling in Indiana, welcome home.