It’s been a week for heroes.

First, the first two women Army officers graduated from Ranger School--a course known as the most grueling, physically and mentally challenging school in the infantry. Second, a U.S. Air Force airman and two of his childhood friends (including a National Guardsman just back from Afghanistan) disarmed and captured a gun-toting terrorist on a train from Amsterdam to Paris.

Most of us will probably never be called on to be heroes like this, so most of us will never know how we’d react. However, we all have opportunities to be heroes in our own worlds, perhaps on a different scale. Whether we’re talking about colleagues who go above and beyond at work or mentors and peers who give far more than they could ever rightly be expected to or even friends and families who act selflessly and out of love for our benefit, we’re all surrounded by heroism.

The question is how closely we can live up to their standards. Here are seven things heroic people have in common--but that most other people simply don’t.

1. They keep their eyes open.

You can imagine how surreal it must have been for Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, National Guard Spec. Alek Skarlatos, and college student Anthony Sadler to see a shirtless guy with an AK-47 charging down the aisle of their train. But they believed their eyes, processed what was happening--and kept themselves and others alive as a result.

Takeaway: Heroic actions are often a reaction to the unexpected, but that requires watching for adversity and opportunity.

2. They prepare for the moment.

Military training is intense. Ranger School takes months to prepare for--probably years, to do it right. When 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, 25, and Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, first started at West Point, women weren’t even allowed to attempt the Ranger course.

Takeaway: Even when you don’t know exactly what heroic moment you’re destined for, you likely have an intuitive sense of how you should be preparing.

3. They demonstrate a bias for action.

Reportedly, there were guards or officials aboard the French train who either ran or at least failed to act during the attack. For the Americans, that wasn’t an option. As a British army colonel who has served with U.S. forces wrote:

Had the traditional European reserve been in play, it is likely that there would have been wholesale murder. As it was the strong tradition of U.S. servicemen to be “always on duty,” they no doubt saved lives.

Takeaway: Bold action saves lives--and creates heroes.

4. They take risks.

Charging a terrorist who is carrying a rifle and a pistol in a confined area, when you’re completely unarmed (and had no idea minutes before that you were about to be in a fight), is pretty much the definition of taking a risk.

Takeaway: Nobody accomplishes anything heroic without taking chances.

5. They’re willing to sacrifice.

At the news conference before Griest and Haver graduated, many of their male counterparts lauded them for carrying more their share of the load during training, so as to help their classmates. More dramatically, after disarming the terrorist aboard the train, Stone--who had been cut in the neck and hand--refused medical attention in order to help another, more wounded passenger.

Takeaway: True heroism is never self-centered.

6. They persevere.

Ranger School runs 62 days--but only for those who complete it in one fell swoop. Most candidates have to “recycle” at some point, meaning they repeat parts or all of the course multiple times. Haver and Griest had to spend more than 120 days doing parts of the course repeatedly before they graduated last week--but they stuck with it.

Takeaway: Perseverance is a prerequisite.

7. They share the credit.

In the immediate aftermath of the train attack, there were all kinds of contradictory news reports about what had transpired. Part of the confusion had to do with the sheer chaos; part had to do with the fact that French media erroneously reported that the Americans were Marines, rather than members of the Air Force and the Army National Guard. Another factor is that the heroes involved seemed to be at pains to offer the credit to others among their group. Bottom line: They were all heroes.

Takeaway: Humility and heroism go hand in hand.

Published on: Aug 24, 2015
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