Four months ago, we walked into an empty warehouse in southern Johnson County.
Down the road, thousands of Afghans were streaming into Camp Atterbury after a terrifying and traumatic escape from their country. For years, many of them worked alongside the U.S. military and/or government officials, doing what they could to help to stabilize their country.
Now they were in the United States, forced to leave everything behind because they stood by America’s side.
As one Team Rubicon volunteer said: “They made a conscious choice to help the American troops for hopes of betterment of their country and their lives, and I think we owe it to them to continue and uphold our end of it.”
For Team Rubicon, assisting with others on Operation Allies Welcome was a new type of mission.
We’re a veteran-led organization built to serve at-risk and vulnerable populations affected by disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and wildfires. Think cutting tornado-downed trees, tarping wind-damaged roofs, and pushing mud out of water-logged homes.
But this mission was different, it was new, and there was no roadmap to refer to. Before it was over, Team Rubicon would assist at 10 separate locations across the United States with the ultimate task of conducting donations management support. Working in a warehouse collecting, sorting and providing donated items to recently displaced individuals all in an effort to help, all amid a pandemic.
Hoosiers demonstrated their hospitality by quickly providing new, meaningful items toward this effort. These consistent acts of generosity by each person, organization or group brought not only much-needed items to our guests, but also the hope and promise of a much better beginning than their most recent end.
In just a few weeks, our warehouse was bursting with new diapers, toothbrushes and shampoos, along with an increasing number of socks, shirts and pants. More than 2 million items of donated goods were processed at the warehouse assisting Camp Atterbury, almost the entirety provided by the people of the state of Indiana. Each item a sacrifice of someone’s time and money, given to assist another start a new life.
In addition to the material goods came the new Team Rubicon members, people of Indiana who raised their hand, saying “pick me, I want to help.” Close to 250 individual Team Rubicon volunteers assisted over the course of four months. Many of these individuals were new to Team Rubicon, the majority of them from Indiana, and all of them willing to give of their time, their ability and their heart. Each open to sweat in the heat of September and shiver in the cold of December to sort, pack and process the mountains of donated items provided through the generosity of their friends, neighbors and fellow Hoosiers.
Donations came from every corner of the state. Faith communities, charitable organizations, civic groups, businesses, families, children, veterans and others dropped off items at Indiana armories across the state, our collection site at Johnson County Park or in some other fashion ensuring that the donations made it to our warehouse. Many of you gave often, returning time and time again to demonstrate your Hoosier hospitality.
Our mission, to receive, sort and prepare for distribution all donated items in support of Operation Allies Welcome, would not have succeeded the way it did without the support of Indiana State Leadership, namely Gov. Eric Holcomb, along with the military leaders at Camp Atterbury, national and stage agencies, and other nongovernmental organizations. Each knew their role and executed their duties with the intent to serve. It has been amazing to work for and alongside each and every one involved, and to witness the care and sensitivity demonstrated to our guests.
At Team Rubicon, we often say our actions are characterized by the constant pursuit to prevent or alleviate human suffering and restore human dignity — we help people on their worst day.
Hoosiers, you did that. It was you who lifted up and gave support to our Afghan guests, which was beyond anything we could imagine. But you know this is only the first phase. We trust that you will continue to support our Afghan allies as they settle in your communities and across our country by continuing to demonstrate Hoosier hospitality.
We share all of this to say thank you for stepping into the arena with us. For demonstrating that Hoosier hospitality is more than a tagline. For meeting and exceeding the need, and for giving hope and showing love to others.
May each recipient never forget your compassionate and generous giving as we will never forget all that you have shown us.
Tyler Smith, a liaison for Team Rubicon and Camp Atterbury, served in the U.S. Army and retired from the 10th Special Forces Group. He was deployed for five years in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, serving in Iraq and Jordan. Russ Hessler, task force leader for Team Rubicon, served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1978 to 1983. Team Rubicon ends its mission at Camp Atterbury on Jan. 7. This column originally appeared in the (Franklin) Daily Journal. Send comments to [email protected]