Military vet expects respiratory therapist career to meet key goals
Damien Mange spent 12 years in the United States Army honing skills and values that will serve him all his life. “For all that it was, the good and the bad, I will always be grateful for the lessons that it gave me,” he says.
Those lessons guide important decisions and help him weigh potential consequences. “Key points that have become such a strong part of my life is that of being efficient and effective,” he says. “Everything we did under our nation’s banner was done in manners that would maximize those two ideals.”
As Damien embraced his new civilian status, he had big decisions to make. At the top was how he would continue to provide for his wife Mariel and their children, Salvador (5), Elena (1) and soon-to-arrive Diego. His new career would have to meet three criteria: Adequate starting pay, reasonably met education/training requirements and nationwide employment options.
“All I had ever known my entire life was the military. Being 30 and already having a family, the responsibility is there, and I knew I didn’t have four years to attend a traditional university,” says Damien. “I needed to find something that would give me the skills and training to get into the work force quickly, but also provide a comfortable living for my family.”
He also wanted to protect his time with family. Life in the military had created too many long separations, and they wouldn’t accept that lifestyle again. “It was important to me to be present as a husband and father with a job that would keep me close to home,” says Damien.
There were a lot of possibilities to consider. “I knew I couldn’t do something that was sedentary; that would drive me crazy,” he says. “I was looking for something that was the best of both worlds: Challenge me mentally but allow me to be physically active.”
San Joaquin Valley College was right down the street from where Damien went to high school in Bakersfield. Its campus was as familiar to him as his own neighborhood. His internet searches kept popping up various business, medical and technical programs SJVC offered. “I decided to talk with a counselor and discuss my goals,” he remembers. “The options were there and were really appealing to me.”
Damien didn’t go into that initial meeting settled on the Respiratory Therapy program, but it quickly grew on him. “I was looking at starting pay, education requirements and that I could relocate comfortably (nationwide employment need), and once I saw that it satisfied the three requirements, I kind of zeroed in on it. After a little research and talking to my wife, it became a main contender right away.”
It was a big commitment. “We make all of our decisions as a family unit,” says Damien. “I knew it would take a lot of support from her; without her holding down the home front I wasn’t going to be successful. I had to have her on board from the start.”
Mariel had some good questions about his choice of careers. “The first thing she asked me is ‘Are you sure you want to work in a hospital? Everything you did before was outside, or in helicopters, and in stark contrast to an indoor, sterile environment.’ I explained a lot of the similarities: The foundation of principles, responsibility for others.”
Then he applied his truest test: Was the program ‘efficient and effective’ toward his career goal? “SJVC’s accelerated program focuses the curriculum to maximize my time spent both on campus and on clinical site. The program I selected would provide me with the knowledge and skills to allow me to get into the workforce quickly and be effective once I was there.” Check and check.
Damien took a seat in the program that would change his life. And, it was a lot harder than he thought.
“Going from aviation in the military to the medical field gave me no basis for foundational knowledge,” he admits. “A simple subject felt like so much because I had no idea how to even begin with it.” He needed perspective.
“I went into the program very confident,” he says. “I had a lot of pressure put on me before. I told myself, if I could do that, I could certainly handle this school.” His philosophy would be put to the test.
“I was surprised at times how overwhelmed I felt,” he confesses. “There was so much information, so much to memorize. At times it felt like too much for me.”
Damien came to realize that most of his classmates felt the same way. They began to pull together. “There’s a good structure within my classmates,” he says. “Me coming from a team mentality in the military it’s nice to have a team of classmates who are going for the same goal and trying to accomplish the same mission. It was organic. Everybody is always willing to help each other, and we challenge each other in fun and supportive ways.”
Damien’s perspective and experience gradually changed. “Now I’m building on concepts that I’ve learned and while information is getting more intense, I can work through it mentally now because I have the foundation.”
The Respiratory Therapy program proves all-consuming.
“The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do is push my family away so that I can focus on my academics,” says Damien. “I have young kids and they don’t care that I have to go to school, have to get a job. They just want to play. When I shoo away my little girl, that just breaks my heart. I have to remind myself that, ultimately, this is for them.”
Their family works toward a balance of school and home life. “The burden is heavy, but we made it a family policy that the first 10 minutes I’m home is dance time with my kids,” he says. “It’s just silly dance with me and the two of them, the five month old isn’t cutting a rug just yet.”
Damien keeps his eyes on the prize. “I would like to work in a hospital, primarily a trauma center,” he says. He is attracted to the team mentality and dependency. “There’s high stakes and it’s an environment that demands the best out of you. I look forward to serving our community.”
Damien has lived his life digging deep to find the best in himself to give others. He knows it can be very painful and completely daunting. “We had a saying in the military: ‘Embrace the Suck.’ It’s a way to change our mindset. When you’re cold, hungry or tired, it drains your strength. Make it your mindset to say, ‘I can take more.’ Push back. March through it. Strength is born out of adversity.”
Thank you, Damien Mange, for your wisdom, your example and for your service to a grateful nation.