“I just felt the need to do something,” said Delius, the son of a career military man.
He was rejected by the military several times because of an old knee injury. But after three years of trying, his persistence paid off.
In January 2005, at age 35, Delius entered the Georgia Army National Guard and volunteered for duty in Afghanistan – shutting down his 10-year, solo law practice to deploy.
The Army quickly put his legal experience to work as a judge advocate general (J.A.G.) assigned to help the Afghan National Army establish a military justice system.
“They had Soviet-style training, and they wanted to try to change to a system of handling things with much more of a human-rights focus,” he said. “That meant working with Afghan Army officers, police and sometimes judges and prosecutors,” he said.
Delius was struck by what he saw. Afghan children shoeless and shivering in freezing weather. A nation without the Rule of Law or adequate infrastructure. A place where people could not vote without fear.
He threw himself into humanitarian efforts – gathering donations of food and clothing for the Afghan people. That was the “most rewarding” aspect of his service in Afghanistan, he said.
Delius, now a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard, was never shot at or hit by a roadside bomb while stationed in Afghanistan.
“But that was a constant worry because I was outside the wire every day,” he said. “It was happening every day, and the enemy doesn’t care what your job is.”
Once he returned stateside, Delius re-established his Atlanta law practice, a process that took a year, maybe two.
Now, 47, Delius participates in weekend preparedness drills and accepts that he could be called to active duty at any time. In May, he was sent to the Republic of Georgia to help the Ministry of Defense restructure the country’s military. He will return for more work there later this year.
Delius was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Afghanistan. But he is most proud of the Humanitarian Service Award that he received for helping Afghanistan civilians while he was deployed.
He said he believes he’s a different —- and likely better – person for having served his country downrange.
“I don’t sweat the small stuff as much. Being in a life-and-death environment just forces that upon you,” Delius said.
And after seeing the Afghan children homeless, shoeless and freezing, he said, he no longer takes life for granted.
Delius said he tries to pass that on to his 7-year-old.
“I tell my son: You are incredibly fortunate just being born in this country. You have freedoms and opportunities that most of the world doesn’t.”