A former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison on Thursday after pleading guilty to possession with the intent to distribute Oxycodone.
Travis Kuykendall’s time in prison will be followed by three years of probation, six months of which will be spent in home detention. He’ll also serve 150 hours of community service.
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore after emotional testimony from family and friends about how Kuykendall was a warm, compassionate and responsible young man until he returned from combat mentally and physically fragile.
Experts have diagnosed him with posttraumatic stress disorder and depression.
“Travis is not the Travis that went to war,” said his mother, Dorothy Hudson. “His adjustment coming back has not been easy for him.”
“I know Travis regrets the mistake he made,” she said. “I know he’s a good person.”
In March 23, 2003, Kuykendall participated in the bloodiest battle in Iraq. At the end of the operation, 18 Marines had been killed in action and 32 had been wounded.
Kuykendall was traveling in an amphibious assault vehicle with close friend Marine Cpl. Randal Rosacker when a U.S. anti-tank airplane hit the vehicle on a strafing run. Rosacker died; Kuykendall ended up in a swamp.
Kuykendall served in a total of 10 battles.
“After what he went through, I don’t know how he gets up,” Marine Sgt. David Hixon testified in court. “I respect him a lot. He just wants to do better every day.”
Kuykendall suffered traumatic brain injury in combat. His ears were injured, and he suffered back problems, testified Tampa psychiatrist Bala Rao. Along with PTSD, Kuykendall suffers from depression and mood swings, Rao said.
Even with his post-war issues, the Bloomingdale High graduate and former high school football star tried to get his life in order, family and friends testified. He got married and had a daughter.
A former Marine buddy enticed him into the Oxycodone world, they said. Once he was arrested, though, Kuykendall faced his demons and helped local law enforcement infiltrate drug trafficking organizations to gather evidence for future cases, they told the judge.
With a fellow military veteran, he opened a successful gym in Seminole Heights.
Whittemore said he was sympathetic and appreciative of Kuykendall’s service but that the crime called for more than probation. He said the selling of Oxycodone is one of the most serious drug offenses his courtroom sees.
“I really don’t think this case is about the Iraqi war,” Whittemore said. “It’s not about the horror of what you saw. It’s about selling drugs.”
“I don’t see the connection between the horrible experience he went through and what he did 12 or 13 times on the streets,” Whittemore said.