From Hoosier to Hero to the Horseshoe: The Story of Josh Bleill

You can’t celebrate the Fourth of July in the land of the free without owing a debt of gratitude to the men and women who made it the home of the brave. Those who fought to establish the United States and those who still defend the ideals it was founded upon: equality, freedom, and justice for all. True American heroes – like Josh Bleill.

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The community spokesperson for the Colts was working a corporate job in his hometown of Indianapolis on September 11, 2001, when the unthinkable happened.  More than 700 miles away, in lower Manhattan, two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center. America had been attacked on its own soil. It was a loss of innocence and security for many Americans. But heroes often have a different reaction to fear.

"Something inside of me clicked. Something inside of me knew that this was what I wanted to do. I was passionate about it," said Bleill. "I knew this was where I was being called."

Where he was being called was to join the few and the proud.

"My father always told me growing up, 'Never become a Marine or a teacher.' He was both."

On September 12, 2003, Josh Bleill followed his father's footsteps into the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2004, at 27 years old, he went to boot camp. And in 2006, he was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. Then, on October 15, 2006, it all went black.

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A bomb exploded under the vehicle Bleill was riding in. He woke up five days later to the realization that he had lost two friends and both of his legs in the blast. He spent two years recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was there that he had the chance to meet the Colts and owner Jim Irsay, who made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

"He sought me out. I mean, he found me at the hospital and said, 'I want to make you two promises. I'll fly you home if you want to visit and come see me about a job when you get there.'" Bleill took him up on it. And Irsay kept his word.

Corporal Josh Bleill is now a walking, talking, image of hope, using his story to motivate and inspire others. Even with all he's been through, Bleill doesn't just believe in the American dream. He's living it.

"It worked out. I'm not going to lie. I work in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. I travel and do public speaking. The American dream is very possible. Even after something like this, so devastating that I thought things were over, it still worked out," he said. "In America, if you keep working and things do go wrong, if you have that drive, it's well alive. It's always a possibility."

And that's as much a credit to Bleill as it is to the country he served. He was always a patriot. But now, he says the stars and stripes mean something more to him.

"My grandfather was big about raising the flag every morning and lowering it every night. So, that was a big thing that I (saw). I also think about the guys that I lost when the flags are folded," he said. "But also, I remember seeing it over there and knowing that I was safe. When I got back here, seeing it at the hospital when they pulled me off a helicopter finally, that I knew I was ok. I was going to make it."

Bleill didn't just survive. With the help of those around him, he found a way to thrive once again.

"I'm a father, I'm a husband, I'm a Christian, I'm a Colts community spokesperson, I'm a Marine."

And he's a hero.

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On this Fourth of July, we honor America, the things we hold dear – faith, family, football, and those who make it possible for us to enjoy them.

Because freedom isn't free.

Just ask Josh Bleill.

And then, be sure to thank him.

You can read more about Josh Bleill and his journey in his book, "One Step At a Time." To schedule Josh to speak to your group, go to: *http://www.colts.com/onestep.*

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To read more stories by Heather Lloyd, visit: *ColtsRoundup.com.*

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