By Brian Williams Anchor & “Nightly News” managing editor
NBC News
updated 12/22/2004 11:07:56 PM ET 2004-12-23T04:07:56

Finally tonight: a story you could call "the cost of good intentions." It started in Iraq, where Maj. Catherine Kaus, a reservist from Dayton, Ohio, was put in charge of the 656th Transportation Company. In her last performance review, her superior officer raved about her. The report highlighted a "great performance by a seasoned commander" and said "Maj. Kaus succeeded where few could."

She kept her unit away from home a year or more. They delivered 16 million gallons of fuel to those at the front, covering a million miles in over 500 missions in very dangerous territory. Her unit's performance was, by any standard, heroic.

The problem is: Maj. Kaus is in the brig. Stripped of her rank, she is finishing a six-month prison term, and has been dishonorably discharged.

A total of five soldiers in her unit were court-martialed, for commandeering two tractors, two trailers, and stripping a third vehicle for parts they needed to keep moving, including the shipment of protective suits in case U.S. soldiers ran into weapons of mass destruction.

This was all too much for Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who has written President Bush, asking for a presidential pardon for the six reservists.

"I think the soldiers understand they have to follow the rules, but sometimes when it's a matter of life or death, they stood by their fellow soldiers. And isn't that exactly what we want them to do?" asks Sen. Durbin.

Durbin says he made his request to the president in the spirit of Christmas. 

Another soldier in that unit told us the punishment doesn't fit the crime.

"A letter of reprimand, tell me to resign my commission, tell me to go get retired, but never confinement, never that I would lose everything for mission completion," says Ohio National Guardsman Darrell Birt.

A columnist for the Dayton Daily News said this week — General Patton is no doubt spinning in his grave. He's urging the people of Dayton to throw a big parade when Maj. Catherine Kaus comes marching home... from prison.

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