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After sister's death, surviving Witmers make painful choice

From Brian Todd

National Guard

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After suffering an enduring loss, the Witmer sisters were faced with an excruciating decision.

"They should complete their military obligations outside of Iraq," said National Guard Spokesman Lt. Col. Tim Donovan of the Witmer sisters Tuesday.

After more than two weeks of grief and family discussion, Rachel and Charity Witmer accepted the recommendation of the adjutant-general of Wisconsin and formally asked the Army to assign them stateside posts, rather than send them back to Iraq.

Through a spokesman, the adjutant-general says he told the sisters they should ask for the transfer because if they returned to Iraq, the publicity generated by their case would endanger their fellow soldiers.

"It was felt by us here in Wisconsin and other commanders elsewhere that their return to their units would not do those units any good," said Lt. Col. Donovan.

On April 9, 20-year-old Michelle Witmer, Charity's twin and Rachel's younger sister, was killed in an ambush in Baghdad.

Charity, with a medical battalion in Iraq, and Rachel, who served with Michelle in the 32nd Military Police Company of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, came back to New Berlin, Wisconsin for the funeral.

Their parents appealed to the National Guard, Pentagon, and members of Congress to keep their surviving daughters home.

But Defense Department officials told CNN, under U.S. military policy, it was up to the sisters to decide whether to ask for so-called "compassionate re-assignment" from a hostile zone.

Through a family spokeswoman, Rachel and Charity expressed their emotional conflict. They did not want to let down their comrades back in Iraq.

"This was a profoundly complex decision, and by far the most difficult decision we've ever made," Witmer family spokeswoman Joan Apt said on behalf of Rachel and Charity on Tuesday.

Now, defense officials say, it's mostly a formality. The request will go up the chain-of-command, and will almost certainly be granted.

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