The Washington Times-Herald

February 6, 2013

Speaker tells students to stand up

Bleill speaks of overcoming adversity

By Nate Smith
Washington Times Herald

WASHINGTON — Josh Bleill has no legs.

But he does not want pity. In fact, if you listen to him, he will inspire you to stand up.

Bleill, a community spokesman for the Indianapolis Colts, delivered his message of triumph over adversity to students of Washington junior and senior high schools Tuesday morning. The former Marine lost both of his legs in Iraq in 2006 when an improvised explosive device exploded in a Humvee he was riding in.

His overall message of overcoming adversity was only more evident through the prosthetic legs he used on the Hatchet House floor.

“I have a dream job,” Bleill said. “I literally travel the country to go out and speak, but it’s not just about my story. The book is not even my story.”

Rather, Bleill said, the book “One Step at a Time,” is about his comrades. Two of his friends in the Humvee died in the explosion. He told the students a part of his journey from a child at Greenfield Central High School, to  a Purdue lacrosse player to what he has become today.

He said the events of 9/11 changed his outlook on America and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 2003. In September 2006, he was sent to Iraq, specifically Fallujah, a hotspot of insurgent activity.

“There’s unfortunately a lot of bombs, a lot of guns,” Bleill said.

On Oct. 15, he along with other Marines was driving through Fallujah about to intercept an incoming vehicle. An IED that was underneath them then exploded.

“When we ran over the median, that’s when the world ended,” Bleill said.

He woke up five days later in a hospital in Germany. His jaw was wired shut, his hands were in casts and he learned his legs were gone. But instead of thinking about himself, he worried about his fellow Marines. He lost a sergeant and a roommate in the explosion.

“I was banged up. I was changed forever,” Bleill said.

Then the anger came. He recovered from his injuries in a Bethesda, Md., hospital, but he was so angry, he refused many of the opportunities before him. There was one opportunity he couldn’t pass up though, a trip to the Super Bowl to see his beloved Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears.

“For me, it was bigger than just the Super Bowl,” Bleill said.

After the game, Bleill was then transferred to Walter Reed Medical Center, where he learned to walk again. It was by chance he met the Colts and owner Jim Irsay, who sought Bleill out and wanted to give him a job once he returned to Indiana.

It was almost 10 months at Walter Reed, and Bleill was just getting ready to leave with his new legs when he felt a pain near the ending of his legs. An infection had developed, and further amputation was needed.

“After 10 months of overcoming the worst of my life, I had to go through it again,” Bleill said.

Instead of retreating intoto anger, Bleill said he put a smile on his face and set to learn to walk again. After two years, he returned to Indiana and started working for the Colts.

Bleill told the students “not to be a bomb in someone else’s life,” and to set a good example. He also talked about falling down, literally and metaphorically, in life.

“I could have hid from the world forever,” Bleill said. “Don’t hide. I still fall. When I fall down, I get back up.”

The fact that Bleill was a Marine was not lost on the school. The school played the Marine Corps anthem after the national anthem and the WHS NJROTC cadet corps gave a rousing “hooah” for the speaker.

“I think that just for a second, we need to reflect,” WHS Principal LeAnne Kelley said. “Josh said a lot of great things.”