A state trooper originally from Mastic, whose police academy training was interrupted by a U.S. Marine Corps combat deployment to Iraq, had a commencement ceremony Thursday with a recruit class of just one - himself.
That's an unprecedented honor, the state police said.
Potucek had joined the Marines while still enrolled at William Floyd High School and four days after high school graduation he entered boot camp on Parris Island on June 26, 2002.
Potucek said in an interview from Albany he was inspired to join the Marines after his close friend's father, a firefighter named Kevin Smith, died in the 9/11 tragedy eight years ago.
"I looked up to his son growing up," Potucek said. Smith's son, Christopher, had been a Marine.
Before his second deployment, the Marine sergeant attended Suffolk County Community College's Riverhead campus before finishing a bachelor's degree at the Brentwood campus of Long Island University. He did a semester of graduate work in childhood education and special education before entering the police academy.
Last year he returned from a tour of duty in Iraq in time to begin police academy training. He was living in East Patchogue. But only three weeks later the Marines reactivated his combat unit and sent it back to Iraq to help train the Iraqi police.
"It was a lot better this time around," Potucek said. He added: "I've seen a giant change from 2003 to today."
And while in Iraq the latest time Potucek served with distinction and earned the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and other honors.
Potucek was released from active duty in late April and soon resumed the state police training, rejoining a group of cadets in its final six weeks, then continuing in a classroom of one with his own personal teachers.
"It was very, very personal," Potucek said of the academy instruction he received.
Potucek will report for 10 weeks of field training and be permanently assigned to Troop F, in upstate Montgomery, near Middletown, police said.
Of the about 4,800 troopers statewide, more than 300 are reservists and 32 are on active duty, said Sgt. Kern Swoboda, a State Police spokesman.