For Col. Scott Delbridge, there is not a single moment during his 38 years of service in the Army National Guard that stands out as the most impactful. Instead, it is a collage of moment after moment, hour after hour, sitting with those who are hurting.
"Like raising kids, it's the collective experience that is the most meaningful," Scott said, "being there for people when they're the most scared or having a difficult time or lost—and sitting with them in the midst of that."
Growing up a preacher's kid, Scott said helping others and working hard came naturally to him.
"My dad's a pretty good guy, so I kind of bought into taking care of people," Scott said. "That's where I kind of started my love of caring for people."
Scott joined the National Guard in 1981 when he was a freshman in college, and soon after, he became a chaplain. He married his wife Annette Delbridge, they had three sons together and they moved to Annette's home town of Molalla. That was right around Sept. 11, 2001.
Then came his first deployment.
Scott deployed in 2003 to Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar with an infantry brigade combat team.
As with many military families, adjusting to his absence was a challenge, but Annette said the folks at Molalla Church of the Nazarene softened the blow with many of the men insisting she create "honey-do" lists for them to complete.
Scott's youngest son, Ty Delbridge, was in elementary school at the time and recalls the idea of his father being in a war zone "scary." But it was during this first deployment that Ty came to know his father as a hero.
"It was cool to walk around and be able to tell people that my dad was over there and was being a hero," Ty said.
To this day, Ty said he still considers his dad a hero.
Scott came home from that tour unscathed and without having lost any fellow soldiers. He took over as pastor of the Nazarene church where he would preach about life, but in the meantime, he encountered death over and over again.
"In 04-05, one of our Oregon battalions lost nine," Scott said. "I ended up doing a lot of notifications to families of those who were killed. I've done 30 over the last decade—telling people that their loved ones were killed.
"I notified a single mom at about 10 o'clock at night one night, and her bible was open on the table, and telling me she'd just been praying for her son—her only son," Scott said. "And well, I get to tell her he's dead."
When Scott realized he was facing another deployment, he resigned from the church and in 2007 dedicated himself full-time to the Army National Guard as a chaplain before deploying again in 2009 to Baghdad.
"It didn't seem like it was too long of a chunk, and then he left again," Annette said. "The boys were a little bit older, but I would say that for us, I think it made us really independent and really proud of all the men because when someone that you care about is actually serving, I think it just makes it more real."
Scott's oldest son Peter Delbridge expressed how proud he is of his dad, not just as a veteran, but as a "whole person."
"He's kind of one of those cornerstones we all need in our lives," Peter said.
When Scott returned home in 2010, he and Annette opened a drive-through coffee shop in Molalla. He did that while continuing to work full-time as a military chaplain and finishing his degree in counseling at George Fox University. Keeping busy, Scott said, is one way he copes with trauma he's experienced.
Then in 2014, Scott began the job that would become "the most meaningful" he's ever had. He began serving as a counselor for the Department of Veterans Affairs at the Salem Vet Center, and it didn't take long before he was the director, a position he currently holds. He also continues to serve as the state chaplain, which he will retire from in 2021 after completing 40 years of military service.
But he plans to continue counseling people, he said, "until Jesus takes [him] home."
"I think it's just rare to sit down with somebody for an hour and have that person just focus on you," Scott said. "We're in a busy world. People are just too busy for everybody. They're all into 180-character responses."
Scott, on the other hand, sits down with veterans for an hour at a time. He's been sitting with some of them on a monthly basis for the last six years.
"And then you go, 'Hey, I got up and helped someone,'" Scott said as he fought back tears. "It's cool, you know, to know you got up that day and at the end of your day, someone's day was better because you got up. How do you put a price tag on that?"
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