At the Boston Police Academy, Kevin Plunkett found himself at home.
Fellow recruits cheered each other on during physical training. They studied together for exams. And because Plunkett was a member of the Navy Reserve familiar with the paramilitary’s yelling-and-shouting style of training, he was able to help classmates survive the physically and psychologically taxing first weeks. Classmates were already becoming trusted comrades.
But five weeks in, Plunkett got word: He was due for another deployment overseas. As an officer, he had the option of deferring until after his training was complete. But the rest of his unit would not have the same luxury.
“I don’t have it in me to say, ‘Send them off to war,’ and then kind of sit back,” Plunkett said. “That just wouldn’t have sat well with me.”
Almost one year after his classmates graduated from the police academy, Plunkett will be the lone member of Class 5011 to receive his badge at a ceremony Friday at the Villa Victoria Center for the Arts in the South End. He will be the first Boston police officer to graduate from the academy after serving a military deployment in the middle of his training, an experience that he said has been both challenging and character-building.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow, so I can finally get out there and join them,” Plunkett said Thursday.
Plunkett, a graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, became an officer in the US Navy Reserve in 2002. It was an opportunity, he said, “to try to make things right.”
But after traveling to more countries than he can recall, he wanted to return to Boston. The Police Department, he thought, would be a good fit.
“I wanted to do a job that would mean something and make the city a better place,” he said. “I know that sounds pretty corny, but I honestly do believe that.”
Police officer John Ezekiel, Plunkett’s platoon officer, said the recruit’s decision to leave for the deployment was a selfless one, knowing how much more challenging the remaining 16 weeks of training would be without classmates.
“There’s just a whole bunch of team-building and camaraderie that you feel with your class,” Ezekiel said. “I wish that he had the opportunity to experience that for the remainder of the academy.”
Plunkett was surprised by how regretful he was to leave his classmates.
“It was really hard,” Plunkett said. “I don’t think I had expected that.”
But classmates did their best to keep him connected, sending him pictures, stories, inside jokes, and details of every day’s harrowing physical workout, much-needed reminders as Plunkett worked as a seaward security officer at a busy naval port in the United Arab Emirates.
“When you’re up at three in the morning, those e-mails give you kind of a chuckle to get you through the rest of your day,” Plunkett said.
When Class 5011 graduated last November, Plunkett returned the favor: He e-mailed a photo of himself standing in front of the destroyer USS Russell holding a cardboard sign with words of congratulations. The photo was projected at the ceremony, which was attended by Plunkett’s mother and girlfriend.
When Plunkett returned to the United States in June, he was eager to return to training, but knew he had a lot of catching up to do.
He took two weeks to relearn all the old material. He read all his notes, then copied them into a new notebook. Classmates dropped off even more pages to study.
The cram session worked: It was as if no time had passed, Ezekiel said.
Plunkett had to finish his training alone. Most physical fitness sessions were solo. Classroom lessons became one-on-one tutorials.
But although Plunkett will be the only recruit honored at Friday’s ceremony, he won’t be alone: 29 other members of the Police Department will receive promotions, including Deputy Superintendent Alfredo Andres, who will become the department’s first Latino captain.
It is a historic achievement for the department, said Sergeant Jose Lozano, vice president of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, a group that has often been critical of the Police Department’s lack of black, Hispanic, Asian, and female leaders.
“It sends a message to the younger officers,” Lozano said. “If Captain Andres can achieve this monumental endeavor, younger officers can achieve this also.”
Plunkett’s classmates will also be there, to cheer him on.
And Plunkett has something else to look forward to. Khaki uniforms are the standard dress for both naval officers and police recruits. Friday, Plunkett will receive his first set of blues.
“I cannot wait,” he said, “to get rid of these khakis.”