Cizik School of Nursing case manager Rex Marsau shares how being a veteran led to a lifetime of serving others
“I’m working with veterans and that is my focus,” says VBSN case manager Rex Marsau
(Nov. 11, 2019) – We are fortunate to count military veterans and uniformed service members among the many faces of UTHealth. On Veterans Day and every day, we stand united in honor of our students, educators, clinical providers, researchers, and administrative personnel who have served in the military. We do this through our ongoing commitment to a diverse, inclusive, and supportive environment at UTHealth and through service to active military personnel and veterans in our community.
Rex A. Marsau, MA, MFT, is case manager for the Veterans’ Bachelor of Science in Nursing (VBSN) program at Cizik School of Nursing. He also is a Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy (Retired). The following is an interview that appeared first on the intranet site Inside UTHealth. Happy Veterans Day!
What originally interested you in UTHealth?
It was a long journey that led me to UTHealth.
I’d been working with homeless veterans for many years. After I retired from the military, I went to work in corporate America, but it didn’t click with me. I worked four years in a Fortune 500 company, but I didn’t feel like I was helping anybody, and that’s when I received a letter from Veterans Affairs about my educational benefits. I quit my job at the age of 51 and went to school. I earned my master’s degree in psychology in a little over three years.
One of the pieces of how I landed at UTHealth was when I did my practicum. I was given a list of possible sites, and I found a place that helped veterans – Veteran’s Village of San Diego. I thought, I’m a veteran, and I can do therapy with veterans. I was hired to do therapy with combat veterans. The week I got there, they were doing a program called “Stand Down,” where they go out and find homeless veterans and provide them with dental and medical care as well as clothing, food, tents, and other necessities. I saw all these homeless veterans, and I thought, “No one in our country should be homeless, and no veteran should be homeless.” That is what got me started in my work with veterans. I finished my practicum, and then I moved to Texas.
I found a place called United States Veterans Initiative in Houston, and submitted a resume. I was looking to do what I was doing at Veteran’s Village, but instead I was brought on as director of programs. For the next five years I worked with the homeless. We had a large facility where 500 homeless veterans were housed, fed, and completed programs that would help them reintegrate back into society.
That’s where I met Bridgette Pullis, from Cizik School of Nursing. She started bringing her interns in to do medical assessments on our homeless veterans, and we got to be friends. She asked if I was interested in coming to UTHealth to manage their veteran students.
It’s rewarding. I get to help these students. Veterans, particularly ones that are coming out of the military and right into college – there’s a reintegration process and it can be challenging for them. Our mindsets are so different, and these students have some additional challenges. They are typically older than the general nursing student population, and they typically have jobs and families in addition to schoolwork.
What keeps you excited about working at the university?
This is the best place I’ve ever worked at, other than the military. I loved being in the military, but out of everything I’ve done since, this is the best place I’ve worked at. They welcomed me and were so friendly, warm, and helpful. There is a lot of professionalism here, and a lot of caring. Cizik School of Nursing wants these students to be successful and learn, and they care. We graduate some of the best nurses in the nation, and I recently read that UTHealth was named one of the best places to work at. The energy is good, from the top down.
What is your greatest accomplishment so far?
When I arrived at Cizik School of Nursing, I started talking with the faculty, and not many knew about veterans and the military. I talked to Dr. Pullis, and said that I’d like to do some training with faculty on military culture. I put together a presentation; I wanted them to know some specific things about what it is like to be in the military and how it affects the service members and their families. I talked about PTSD and the eight to 20 veterans that commit suicide every day in the U.S. Additionally, I talked about how less than one percent of our population of roughly 327.2 million joins the military every year. I wanted to hit home with them that this is important. Veterans are important. Service members are important. They keep our country safe and we need to do more for our veterans. I built this presentation and showed it to faculty. I’m teaching it to students now.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
I have a heart for people in general, but where I’m working now, I’m working with veterans and that is my focus. Part of my job is to help them be successful, and that’s part of the reward. Since I’ve been here, we’ve had a number of students who graduated and got jobs, and they came back to let us know. When they come in and knock on your door, and they tell you about their new jobs, and they are smiling and happy, that’s the payoff – that they are successful and happy.
What is something you wish people knew about your department?
It’s important, I believe, to have someone like me in positions at every college to help veterans and to be that resource for them. It’s important that they can come to someone and be able to say, “I know ‘Chief Marsau’ is going to take care of me, and get me squared away.”
We have people calling in, and now that I’ve been established here they call me. If it’s a veteran, Student Affairs knows to refer them to me. We also recruit. We are getting people from all over that are veterans, and the word is getting out because we are getting more and more students matriculating.
The flip side of that is we currently have only 10 openings per semester for the VBSN program. One of the things we do now is review the transcript of what service members have done while in the military. Military medicine is different than civilian medicine. If they were medics, combat medics, or if they were nurses, we can give them up to three credit hours for their experience.
What was your role in the military, and how does it relate?
I was in the U.S. Navy for 23 years.
I went in as an operations specialist, which is a warfare-type job. I did that for 13 years. It included anti-air, anti-submarine, and anti-surface warfare. I became very proficient at all of them. I did drug interdiction operations on the coast of South America and in the Caribbean. I did what we call VBSS – Visit, Board, Search, and Seizures – in Iraq. We were looking for signs of them trying to get oil or opium to make heroin so they could make money, and we were looking or anything coming in, mostly oil or weapons.
Then, after 13 years, I came to my End of Active Obligated Service, and I thought about what I’d do when I got out. I had this collateral duty – it’s another job you get to do on top of your initial job. One of my collateral duties was a counselor, and I really liked it because I was helping people. That’s where I found my heart. At the time, I was really liking what I was doing in my regular duties. It was high-speed and I got to do some cool stuff, but I have several service-connected injuries and I needed to ease the throttle back.
I told my superior officers that I wanted to be a Navy counselor, and two weeks later I’m in Navy counseling school. I did that for the next 10 years. I wound up as an Immediate Superior In Command (ISIC) Counselor – one of only seven ISIC Counselors in the Navy. My last command as ISIC Counselor, I ran a counseling center in charge of 49 ships on the waterfront, as well as for all the base facilities. It was a completely different job. What I liked about the military is that you always had something different going on. That’s what got me interested in psychology and led me to what I’m doing now.
What has been your greatest adventure so far?
My time in the military was an adventure. I’ve been to almost every place in the world, except Europe. I’ve been to some amazing places. A lot of guys would get off the ship and go to bars, but I wanted to see places. Sometimes I would go on adventures ll by myself. Even in Iraq, Oman, or Abu Dhabi – places that were in a war zone – I still met some of the most incredible people.
I was walking through a bazaar in Kuwait, and there’s an old man in a turban and wearing a robe. He’s sitting and drinking coffee, and our eyes met, so I smiled at him. He motioned for me to come over, and then motioned the chair next to him. I sat down. He couldn’t speak any English and I couldn’t speak Arabic. He ordered me a coffee, and we sat there and drank together. Think about someone who couldn’t speak your language, but wanted to be with you in this moment.
I was walking through a different bazaar in Abu Dhabi, and I see a lot of kids in a fenced-in area kicking around a homemade ball. They are trying to play soccer with this oddly shaped ball. I’m smiling, and the kids saw me and ran over to the fence. They screamed “American,” and showed peace signs. I had seen some soccer balls at the bazaar, so I left and bought a soccer ball for them. When I went back I threw it over the fence; it was crazy how much fun they were having.
What would you like others to know about UTHealth?
A lot of great research is happening here. I participated in a study and it was interesting; they were asking for anybody and I am anybody. I would love for people to know that we are doing all this research in addition to helping people and educating nurses. We have needs, and we always welcome support. There are so many people out there who have the means to give and support a mission like ours.