More training took place, this time in the Mojave Desert and with 120 Iraqi citizens. Serving with the First Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, “there were gunfire and explosions every single day .... there were lives being lost.”
Bleill’s wounds occurred in Fallujah while on patrol and an improvised explosive device struck his Humvee. “My world went blank. That bomb went off directly under my side of the vehicle.” He was unconscious when fellow Marines “went into that fire and saved me.”
Five days later, he awoke to find internal injuries, a severe traumatic brain injury, his jaw wired shut, casts on both wrists and a tracheotomy needed so he could breathe. His legs were partially amputated.
The emotional wounds were even tougher. “My friends were in that vehicle with me. They had to explain the hardest part of this ordeal.” Two of his friends had died. A gunner thrown from the vehicle lost his right leg. The driver, on the side farthest from the bomb, was miraculously untouched.
“I was hurt. I was scared. I was angry … My faith was definitely tested.”
He was transferred from a German hospital to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.
At 29, the former Purdue lacrosse player weighed 115 pounds and was in a wheelchair. He recalled, “I refused to go out in public. I couldn’t deal with the stares … I didn’t want to look weak.” Bleill was offered chances to go scuba diving and horseback riding. “I became very notorious for saying no to these trips. I had a good sergeant. He never gave up.”
The sergeant asked, “‘How would you like to go see the Indianapolis Colts play the Chicago Bears? In the Super Bowl?’” The born-and-raised Colts fan said yes. “This was a dream for me. It was the first time I left the hospital.” Bringing home the championship in 2007 “was awesome,” but the Marine learned the trip “was so much bigger than a football game for me. I didn’t care if people looked … I knew I was blessed just to be alive.”