FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- Twenty-two enlisted service members made history as the first graduating class to receive civilian associate degrees for completing military training during a July 22 ceremony at Anderson Hall.

Students received their degrees in Applied Science in Respiratory Therapy from Thomas Edison State College after completing the Respiratory Therapy Program at Fort Sam Houston. This is also the first class of enlisted service members to receive college degrees through the Army Medical Department.

The Respiratory Therapy Program was established in 1975 under the sponsorship of Brooke Army Medical Center. Phase I of the course was transferred to Academy of Health Sciences, Army Medical Department Center & School in 1986, while Phase II (Clinical) remained at BAMC.

This class will be the last to graduate under the Army Medical Department Center & School. The RT Program is now transferred to the Medical Education and Training Campus as part of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure.

Originally designated as the 68Victor, or respiratory specialist course, today’s Interservice Respiratory Therapy Program was developed in response to changing accreditation requirements. With greater and more frequent advances in technology and increased responsibilities required of the respiratory care provider, it was imperative the program keep pace.

“The curriculum was revised and updated to meet new accreditation standards of the profession. The (training) was extended by eight weeks and includes nine semester hours of general education courses taught through Thomas Edison State College,” said Harry Roman, program director for IRTP.

In order to receive their degrees, graduates completed a rigorous curriculum of 320 hours of general education; 180 hours of basic medical preparation; and 640 hours of respiratory anatomy and physiology, medical gas therapy, airway management, pulmonary function studies, mechanical ventilation, and pulmonary pathophysiology.

After classroom training, students spent 16 weeks in a clinical setting at BAMC performing respiratory therapy procedures.

Roman said all students are scheduled to take the certification examination by the National Board of Respiratory Care, a requirement to enter the profession.

“This is the right thing to do " graduate with an associate degree and be fully certified respiratory therapists after you pass your tests,” said Col. Michael Pasquarella, chief of Medical Sciences, AMEDDC&S;, who helped develop the program.

“This credential opens many doors and offers many great employment opportunities to our graduates.” Roman said.

“This (training) got me jump started and got me moving,” said Spec. Marty Dagostino, an Army reservist from Minnesota who lives and works in Utah as a nurse. After his certification examination, Dagostino said he plans to get a bachelor’s in respiratory therapy.