Magazine cover brings whirlwind of fame and attention to soldier
January 27, 2004
ARLINGTON, Va. — At 26, Spc. Billie Grimes is too young to remember Andy Warhol, the New York artist who once said, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
After appearing on the Dec. 23 cover of Time magazine, along with fellow 1st Armored Division soldiers Sgt. Marquette Whiteside and Sgt. Ronald Buxton, Grimes definitely understands the concept.
The trio was chosen to represent all American soldiers. But inevitably, the spotlight has shone on the individuals featured on the popular weekly’s most prominent issue of the year.
Ever since the magazine hit the newsstand, Grimes’ life has been a whirlwind of interviews, television appearances, and meetings with high-ranking officials and celebrities.
She, Whiteside and Buxton were guests of President Bush at his Jan. 20 State of the Union address. The trio rang the opening bell on Wall Street in New York. They’ve met with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, Acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee and a host of other Army brass.
And the press junket was supposed to culminate on Sunday with a half-time appearance at the Super Bowl, but that’s been nixed, Grimes said.
“I’m not disappointed,” combat medic Grimes said during a Monday interview with Stars and Stripes in the Pentagon. “The Colts are my team and they lost [the playoffs], so I don’t care.”
All in all, it’s been quite a ride, Grimes said. But she’s going to be glad when it’s all over.
Fame, said Grimes, “is a lot more hectic than I thought it would be. I’m actually looking forward to going back to Iraq, just to get away from all this.”
Grimes will get her wish after a concert appearance with country singer Toby Keith in Houston on Saturday night.
From Texas, Grimes will report to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where she’ll fly back to Iraq, the 1st Armored Division’s C Company, 501st Field Support Battalion.
A quiet, thoughtful young woman, Grimes chose the Army in May 2002, after a four-year stint in the Army Reserve.
She arrived in Friedberg, Germany, in July 2002 to sign in with her current unit, which was sent to Iraq less than a year later, arriving in Baghdad in early June.
Grimes later was detached and sent to help staff an emergency medic station for the 1st AD’s Survey Platoon, Headquarters Battery, 2nd Battalion 3rd Field Artillery Regiment.
The “Tomb Raiders,” as they call themselves, are based in Giessen, Germany.
In Iraq, they stay in the Azimiya Palace, a compound in the restive Adhamiya neighborhoods that has been mortared and shot at repeatedly.
“If I was a cat, I’d have used up seven of my nine lives,” Grimes said.
Grimes has been on at least two patrols that ultimately resulted in severely injured or dead U.S. personnel, including a Nov. 1 patrol that cost the life of the platoon’s popular leader, 1st Lt. Ben Colgan.
His death “was the first one where it really hit home,” Grimes said. “We were actually out here and people are dying.”
She was also there on Dec. 10, when Time reporter Michael Weisskopf and photographer James Nachtwey were injured after someone threw an explosive into their Humvee.
Weisskopf lost his hand after attempting to toss the grenade away; Nachtwey had shrapnel injuries, as did two of the platoon’s soldiers.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling,” being a medic, Grimes said. “I couldn’t help Lt. Colgan, but we saved the reporters ... it’s kind of a teeter-totter feeling.”
Grimes first got the news that she was on the cover while in Kuwait, where she was on the first leg of a scheduled two-week R&R to see her family in Lebanon, Ind.
“Someone came up to me with a Stars and Stripes and said, ‘Hey, did you know you’re on the cover?’ ” Grimes said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, God, what is it going to be like when I get home?’”
She soon found out.
From the moment she got home, on Dec. 24, to the day she left, “the phone never stopped ringing.”
She said it was her mother, Wanda Grimes, who helped put all the attention “in perspective.”
“My mom told me to keep it in perspective, just go with the little ride I’m on,” Grimes said. “She said, ‘You were picked for a reason.’”
Grimes said she doesn’t anticipate any envy from her unit mates when she gets back, although she knows she’s going to get plenty of ribbing.
Besides, the cover wasn’t about Billie Grimes, she said, “it’s about the entire U.S. military. All three of us are really proud of who we’re representing.”