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Sisters of soldier killed in Iraq delay decisionon return

The family of a soldier killed last week in Iraq is asking the military to stop her sisters from being sent back to the country after this week’s funeral.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The family of a female soldier killed in Iraq last week expressed thanks Tuesday for the outpouring of sympathy and said no decision has been made on whether her two sisters, also stationed in Iraq, will return there.

Spec. Michelle Witmer, 20, of the 32nd Military Police Company. Witmer died Friday when her Humvee was attacked in Baghdad. Her 24-year-old sister, Rachel, serves in the same military police unit, while Charity, Michelle’s twin sister, is in a medical battalion. They returned home Monday.

“Rachel and Charity would like to express to their fellow soldiers ... our thoughts and prayers are with you,” the statement read by family friend Joan Apt said.

“We are conflicted because we have two families and we can’t be with both at the same time,” the statement said.

Under Defense Department policy, if a soldier dies while serving in a hostile area, other soldiers of the same family may ask to be exempted from service there. That request must come from the soldiers themselves.

The surviving sisters, their two brothers and their parents, John and Lori Witmer of New Berlin, stood by as the statement was read at Elmbrook Church, but did not answer questions.

“We would like to extend our profound gratitude for the outpouring of support we’ve received from both home and abroad,” the statement said.

Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, a spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard, said the sisters will decide whether to return to Iraq when they are comfortable.

“We’ve given them no timetable,” he said. “They’re on 15-day leave that ... could be extended a day or two. I’m sure it’s a tough decision for them. We all stand behind them whatever the decision will be.”

John Witmer had said he hoped his daughters would opt not to return to Iraq, though he understood it was their decision.

“I can’t live another year like I’ve lived this one,” Witmer said. “The sacrifice that this family’s made can never be understood by someone who hasn’t gone through it.”

A memorial service for Michelle Witmer was set for Wednesday.