At job fair, Iraq War veteran encourages asking for help, using community resources

By MARY KECK | Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind. | Published: April 2, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — “For the first time in my life, I was afraid to look in the mirror,” said Josh Bleill, a Marine injured in Fallujah while serving in the Iraq War. “I was a big tough Marine, too tough to ask somebody for help.” 

Bleill, a native of Greenfield, lost two of his friends and both of his legs when his Humvee hit an improvised explosive device in 2006 in Iraq. He described his fear of going to public places after losing his legs and his struggles with learning how to walk using prosthetic limbs with those who attended the Transition and Community Resource Fair at Ivy Tech on Tuesday night. 

“I knew I had to walk again to get my life back,” he said. Through two years of rehabilitation and finding the courage to go out in public, Bleill realized, “it didn’t matter if they saw me fall as long as they saw me stand back up.” 

Today, he is a community spokesperson for the Indianapolis Colts, and he encouraged his audience to ask for help when they needed it and make the most of the resources available. “Show people that do look, that do stare, that you’re a fighter,” he said. 

For more than 20 years, the Monroe Owen Community Transition Council has brought together vendors and speakers to help K-12 students with disabilities discover services that can aid them while in school and when they graduate. 

“We’re hoping people will find a wealth of information,” said Brandi Hamilton, Supported Employment Director of the Community Transition Council. 

More than 30 vendors were on hand at Ivy Tech’s Lamkin Hall to answer questions and share information, and Tiffany Smythe was astounded. 

“I didn’t know all this was available to him,” she said. Smythe is Andrew Plantz’s guardian, and she was encouraged to come by the fair by Andrew’s teacher at Binford Elementary. “I would have never known where to start looking. I’m glad I came,” Smythe said. 

“The resources here are great,” said Andrea McCadden, Highland Park Elementary special education teacher. She walked from table to table picking up fliers and brochures that she could share with her students. 

Jeffery Phillips and his mother Fritzi Phillips were gathering information to share with friends involved in the Special Olympics. Jeffery Phillips is in his third year of the community transition program, which has helped him get a job and become involved in the community. “We’re finding out what else they have and to help support it,” Fritzi Phillips said.

Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Bleill, left, who lost both legs in Iraq when the Humvee in which he was riding struck a bomb, talks with peer amputee visitor Jack Farley at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington in 2007.


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