She was just 20 years old. A Specialist in the Wisconsin National Guard, Michelle Witmer traveled to Iraq just four months after signing up to help serve her country, just like her two sisters.
"I'm ready to step and do what's asked of me....for my country," Michelle said before heading to Iraq.
But the community of New Berlin is now in mourning after Michelle became the first casualty the Wisconsin Guard has suffered since World War Two, and its first female casualty ever.
She was stationed with the Guard's 32nd Military Police Company in Baghdad, and died last week when her Humvee came under attack.
On a brilliant spring day, this suburban Milwaukee community awoke to find the warm and smiling faces of Michelle and her sisters on newspaper front pages and television newscasts. Smiling and yet tragic.
Rachel, her 24-year-old sister, is with the same unit as Michelle. Michelle's twin sister Charity is a medic with another unit in Iraq. Both sisters immediately returned home to their family and now face the daunting decision of deciding whether or not they should go back.
Many in Wisconsin point to films like "Saving Private Ryan” which portrays a distraught Midwestern mother who loses three of her sons in battle, as the army desperately tries to get the fourth son out of harm's way.
Debate over which family to say with
The family has been pleading with the military not to force the sisters to return to Iraq. "We've already suffered enough and the family must not be asked to bare such an impossible burden,” said family spokeswoman Joan Apt said.
"I've had tears in my eyes,” said neighbor Eugene Miller. "There's a lot of hurt in all of us around here."
The National Guard has told the Witmer family the decision will be left up to Rachel and Charity. It will not require them to return unless they choose to do so.
It's a decision that has left them torn, between their family at home and their family in the military. Apt said the sisters are deferring their decision, and "focusing their attention on spending time with their family and grieving the loss of Michelle."
In an interview with Katie Couric on the Today Show, Michelle's mother spoke of the dilemma. "Of course they want to come home," she said. "But they are also very committed to their job and their comrades who would lay down their lives for one another. This is a conflict, a deep, deep conflict."
The sisters have this message for the soldiers they left behind in Iraq.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with you. Not a minute goes by that we don’t think about you. We are conflicted because we have two families and we can't be with both at the same time."
As family and friends prepare for Specialist Michelle Witmer's funeral, a memorial fund has been set up in her honor. Proceeds will go toward assisting the orphans of Baghdad.
A gesture of compassion, in memory of one of three smiling young women. Three sisters. Three soldiers. One of whom will not be coming home.