Your Top 10 List and Medal of Honor Recipient Sal Giunta

Ever made a list of the Top 10 Best Things, important things, you’ve done in your life? Go ahead – try it. And it doesn’t matter whether they’re personal or professional. (I’ll wait while you finish. Tick, tick, tick, tick…) So, was it easy or hard to come up with 10? It may be hard to take credit for some things. We might say, “I just did what anyone would do under the circumstances.”

Humility. That’s what Salvatore “Sal” Giunta exuded as he shared the story of an event that has to be on his Top 10 List. He was a keynote speaker at the Leadership Program of the Rockies Retreat I attended last week.

Salvatore Giunta Medal of Honor Recipient

Sal is a former United States Army soldier and the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the U.S. military’s highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor. Giunta was cited for saving the lives of members of his squad on October 25, 2007 during the War in Afghanistan.

Watch 60 Minutes Interview (video)

Giunta’s squad was ambushed by Taliban insurgents. After being struck by a barrage of bullets, Giunta administered first aid to his fallen squad leader and covered him with his own body. Discovering two rebels carrying away one of his comrades, he engaged the enemy, rescued the soldier and provided aid.

Yep, I’d say that would make it to anyone’s Top 10 List, wouldn’t you?

And yet, he’s quite humble about it. He believes that Medal also belongs to every soldier in his squad.

He writes in his book, Living with Honor, “I am not a hero. I’m just a soldier.”

You are a soldier too. You go into battle each day for causes, co-workers, customers, constituents, friends and family. Sometimes you fight for strangers who have no ability to stand up for themselves.

Some of you, like Sal, have been injured in the process. But you don’t let that get in the way of doing what’s right. You don’t use it as an excuse for not “engaging.”

I commend those of you who keep the bigger picture in mind, recognize the risk of doing nothing and forge ahead despite disappointment and frustration.

It IS worth it. Believe me, we’re with you. 

You need not be a Medal of Honor Recipient to have an impact.


Comments? Feel free to email me your Top 10 List. Here is mine:

  • Enlisting in the USAF and serving seven years
  • Three great children (and two grandchildren)
  • Attending Leadership Program of the Rockies (Class of 2010)
  • Moving to Colorado to be with family
  • Buying a cabin in the woods (yep, even despite the wildfire)
  • Learning how to create/manage my own website, video, audio & SEO
  • Learning how to hunt elk
  • Ability to do work that makes a positive difference in people’s lives
  • Voting
  • Living in the USA

Benefits and Sacrifices of Being a Veteran

Military service is a mission and lifestyle embraced by less than one percent of U.S. citizens. On this Veterans Day, I’d like share a few of the benefits and sacrifices:

Thank You Veterans

  • The honor of folding the Flag for family members of deceased service members
  • Teaming up with strangers from all over the U.S. and from all walks of life
  • Camaraderie that forms when you know you’re all in it together
  • The quiet, humble demeanor of those who have sacrificed most
  • The sense of responsibility one feels when putting on the uniform
  • The courage of family members who say goodbye all too often
  • Learning that even a file clerk’s job contributes to the mission
  • Standing side-by-side with those who truly have your back
  • The importance of attention to detail
  • Creating home in a dorm room, a tent, an airplane hangar or a ship
  • Appreciating the faces and personal impact of national defense
  • Knowing that training seminars are held to keep you alive
  • That maturity grows through responsibility
  • That “earning your clothes” ties character to outward appearance
  • Watching the way military families look out for each other
  • Gaining the respect of fellow Veterans
  • Knowing that everyone is willing to clean a toilet
  • If one person needs to wear a sweater, we all wear a sweater
  • That sandbags don’t fill themselves
  • That the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful never fail to raise a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye

Many thanks to our Veterans. We respect you and honor you!


11 Lessons Learned on a Wild River Ride

We spent our family reunion last week on the banks of Colorado’s Arkansas River. Each time rafters passed by, we’d hoot and holler from our deck. My brother Eric, the photographer, captured the action. And there was lots of it. Water is flowing faster this year than it has in decades with thrills and spills aplenty.

Eric Schickler Photography Arkansas River Rafting

(Photo Credit: Eric Schickler Photography)

Yep, I’ve braved that mighty river before. As a member of a Mature Active Women’s group (MAW’s) we set off one day on a river rafting adventure. Lining up and signing in we asked for a Class 1 experience. (They called this the Granny Tour.)

It started quite tame. There’s nothing more beautiful than rafting calm water with picturesque canyons looming above you. There were seven of us snuggled together including a young teen and her Dad. That girl complained from start to finish – loudly and often.

But it didn’t take long before we were too busy to notice. Our calm float had quickly turned into a churning rapid. Our guide yelled commands. We plunged our paddles and battled the waves. It was thrilling. It was fast. We got wet.

Then everything changed. Our craft shoved itself up on the back of a boulder and the force of the water threatened to topple us.

“Get out on the rock,” yelled our guide. “One at a time. Hurry up!”

Considering the alternative, it seemed smarter to be stranded with a whiny teenager. So out we climbed as water pummeled the raft and our guide tried to keep it from flipping. We huddled close together on that rock and wondered, what now?

A passing raft saw our plight and shouted they could pick someone up. We all looked at the girl but she wouldn’t budge.

We attracted quite an audience. Passing cars tooted and waved. People gathered along the road. Fellow rafters promised to send help. It was humorous and a little humiliating. How would this play in the papers? “Mature Active Women Stranded in Class One Water. Rescue Required.”

Finally help arrived. They told us to keep our feet up and pointed downstream. Then they threw us a rope and advised, “Let the current carry you to the side.”

Guess who went first? Nope, she still wouldn’t budge.

That water was cold! And the current more forceful than I’d expected. But we powered on through it like mountain mamas in an episode of Extreme Outdoors.

In the end, we did lay claim to a successful ride back on the bus to our cars.

And we learned a lot from our unexpected adventure. In business or life:

  1. Sometimes it’s better to bail than be tossed in the drink
  2. Rapids look rougher from down in the boat than up on the road
  3. Skill and experience won’t prevent every mishap
  4. Negativity can ruin everyone’s ride
  5. When you’re in the rapids, you’re bound to get wet
  6. Few will ever raft the same water
  7. Don’t fight the current – let it lead you gradually to shore
  8. Wear a life vest and helmet no matter how calm things appear
  9. You can’t always see what lies beneath
  10. A guide will know when to abandon ship
  11. And finally, screen out whiners before you get in the boat!

What I Learned When My Home Burned in a Wildfire

On June 11, 2013, Colorado’s Black Forest Wildfire destroyed 507 homes, including mine. One day I had a house and the next day I didn’t.

Colorado motivational speaker, Laura Benjamin

One day you’re on stable ground and the next day you’re not. Can you relate?

Ever been through a change that rocked your world? Maybe it was personal or perhaps something happened at work.

I learned a few things from the fire, then spoke about it at a state human resources conference. Hopefully you’ll find value, inspiration and a few ideas from my speech, especially if you’re leading others through times of change:

A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner. –English Proverb

1. Gather a team to help you build a new future. I had help from folks at the Disaster Assistance Center, an architect, my builder, family and friends. You shouldn’t walk this path alone. People want to be there for you. If they ask how they can help, tell them you need information: articles, books, websites, names of people to connect with. You may not see the value right now, but you will before long.

2. Clear the “debris”. Too much clutter will not serve you well. Coco Chanel, the fashion designer said, “It’s in the act of deciding what to remove that we place value on what’s left behind.” So remove distractions that could cause overwhelm and then be cautious what you bring back into your life. Be choosy about how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

3. Expect emotion. At one of our fire recovery public meetings, the moderator kept repeating the words, “I know you’re frustrated.” Then someone from the back of the room shouted, “We’re not frustrated; we’re scared!” People do get scared, and they don’t usually name it as clearly as that person did. Stress hormones flood the system and hamper the executive, logical, decision-making part of the brain. Emotions pop up in ways you might not expect. Find a professional to help you cope.

4. Write a “breadcrumbs book”. This doesn’t need to be a full-fledged journal (although journaling is another excellent way to process change). It’s a bulleted list of things that happen, decisions you choose, people you meet with, payments you make, places you go. Date each entry. It’ll give you a handy reference tool to track a noteworthy event or look back to see just how far you’ve come.

5. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in this for the long haul, so pace yourself. Adapting to a transition may happen gradually. No one expects you to bounce back immediately. Cut yourself slack and appreciate the small “wins” when they happen. Note them in your breadcrumbs book or journal. Studies show that people who look for things to be grateful for are better able to fight stress, anxiety and depression.

Some good will come of this. It may be hard to imagine, but good things have come from losing the house in the fire. We are rebuilding and will indeed rise from the ashes. And you will too!

(NOTE: I’m happy to share lessons learned from this story at your next conference or group meeting, so please feel free to contact me.)

Please forward this post. And share with us in comments, what tips have helped you get through times of trauma, transition and change?