The number of Afghan evacuees living at Fort McCoy has dropped, as officials at the base work to prepare those still housed there for a cold Wisconsin winter.
As of Wednesday, 7,800 evacuees were still being housed at Wisconsin's only military base, according to a Department of Homeland Security spokesperson, down from the nearly 13,000 people in September. But that number fluctuates daily, as more people leave the base for resettlement across the United States.
The base will not, however, be receiving any new evacuees, as the U.S. continues to move people out of Afghanistan following the collapse of the government, the spokesperson said.
No estimations were available on how long those still at the base would remain there, as it depends on how long it takes to work through mandatory vaccinations and other health issues, complete administrative steps and provide work authorization. The departure of the remaining families also depends greatly on resettlement agencies that are overwhelmed with the number of people who needed help following the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
"We are working with resettlement agencies to ensure Afghans can reach their new communities as soon as possible," the spokesperson said.
The military base is hosting those people after their flight from Afghanistan, where they feared for their lives after U.S. troops withdrew from the country, leaving it to fall back into the grip of the Taliban.
Thousands of people fled Afghanistan in the days following the collapse of the country's government. After the U.S. left the country, cities including Kabul rapidly fell to the Taliban, plunging many into conditions where they feared they'd be hurt or killed for their involvement with the U.S.
After the withdrawal, the Biden administration announced that Fort McCoy would be one of several military installations that would house evacuees as they made their way through the immigration process and were connected with organizations to help them settle into new lives.
Since the arrival of the first evacuees in August, military officials have worked to make Fort McCoy a safe space. While the transition was mostly smooth, problems did arise, mostly a lack of adequate dental care, long lines for food and a lack of culturally appropriate clothing in the right sizes.
But the spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security, who was not authorized to share their identity, said many of those issues have been solved.
The base now has four dentists, in addition to clinicians and administrative staff who are helping to serve the health needs of Afghans. The evacuees are now also able to access dental care and medical care off the base.
"Task Force McCoy has a relationship with community health care providers who give medical attention and dental care as needed," the spokesperson said.
The base has also added a pediatric clinic to help address conditions seen in toddlers and children, and has added more mental health care for women, including emotional fitness and resilience.
As for long lines at the dining halls, that issue is now one of the past, the spokesperson said. If any of the evacuees do happen to go to the dining hall at a popular time of day, heating tents have been added so no one is waiting for any period of time in the cold as winter falls.
Clothing issues are also being addressed. Those at the base have all gone through the donation center twice to pick out clothing, and now are being permitted to pick a third set of clothing items.
Those at the base are also helping the evacuees make the transition to the cold weather, providing winter coats and boots to everyone and creating spaces indoors for people to gather and take part in activities to pass the time.
"The effort includes provisioning of cold weather clothing for every guest, placement of warming tents at dining and other critical facilities, establishment of indoor activities, quality checks of functioning utilities in all living spaces, timely snow clearing, establishment of a transportation plan to minimize guest foot traffic, and a plan for power and/or heat outages of living spaces," the spokesperson said.
"Fort McCoy has four recreation centers set up for indoor sports like basketball and soccer, games like pingpong and foosball, board games, cards, puzzles, movies and the like. There are also English classes, cultural classes and two sewing centers."
Laura Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Fort McCoy Afghan population drops below 8,000 after resettlements