A Role Model For Baby Brother

SPC BILLIE GRIMES, 26

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BROOKS KRAFT / CORBIS FOR TIME

U.S. troops listen as President George W. Bush speaks on Independence Day at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Specialist Christopher Grimes, 25, has a favorite story about his big sister Billie, now a medic stationed in Iraq. For a time, when Christopher was in middle school in their hometown of Lebanon, Ind., an older boy would routinely walk up to him as he was finding a place to sit on the bus and shove him into a seat. Christopher never responded. But Billie, then a high school freshman who rode the same bus, couldn't take it. "Finally, she got tired of it, and she just stood up and clocked him," Christopher recalls. "That's the kind of person she is. When it comes to family, that's what comes first."

Their parents, Bill and Wanda Grimes, weren't thrilled when Billie's smack-the-knave impulses propelled her into the Army. She coped with their resistance to her ambition by simply not telling them when she joined the reserves in college. She liked it so much, she signed up for active duty after graduating. Christopher followed her lead, though their parents also opposed his enlistment. Now, with Billie in Baghdad, Wanda, 46, finds herself tensing up every morning at 6, the traditional time that families are notified of military casualties. She and her husband begin and end each day with a prayer that Billie will remain safe. "I can't go every day as the tough guy," says Bill, 46, a printer and former member of the Air Force security police. "We've tried to put it in God's hands."

Still, the Grimeses say they experience almost paralyzing fear every time a U.S. soldier dies in Iraq, then gut-wrenching guilt over their relief it wasn't Billie. They avoid the news whenever possible. Wanda's worst moment was seeing, on CNN, a still smoking armored ambulance that had been hit with a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad. The vehicle was just like the one Billie drives. "It was all I could do to hold it together and not become hysterical at work," says Wanda, a nurse.

Their worries will multiply when Christopher, an MP who served in Afghanistan for six months, ships out for Iraq in March. So will Billie's concerns. She has told Christopher, who is based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and has a wife, Jacque, and a 15-month-old daughter, Stacia, that she would rather he not come to Iraq. Christopher has been well briefed on conditions there by his sister. A fan of fellow Indianan David Letterman, Billie sends home Top 10 lists like "Top 10 Reasons Prison Is Better than Serving in Iraq." Among them: better gyms, showers, meals that don't contain chicken, and "not being shot at while you work."

Wanda and Bill at least have found a productive outlet for their anxieties: they helped organize a church group that sends letters and care packages to soldiers in Iraq. "It's helped us direct our energies," Bill says. "We're doing something instead of just sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves." --By Paul Cuadros/Fayetteville and Maggie Sieger