For University Studies – Leadership major and veteran Bobby Deiss ’80, his graduation from Texas A&M University this week is a story 40 years in the making.
Deiss, who first came to Texas A&M in 1976, left after the summer semester after failing to maintain his grades. He was told to take 15 hours from a community college before reapplying to Texas A&M, which he never did. However, the following year, he was invited to join the Corps and came back to campus for Fish Orientation Week, thinking the university had forgiven him for his prior academic shortfalls.
Deiss checked into his unit, met his fish buddies, drew his uniforms, received his fish haircut, and went to work shinning shoes and brass. But near the end of the orientation week, he was told to report to a person named Dean Cooper, who reminded him about the previous agreement to take 15 hours.
“What Dean Cooper did was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, even though you couldn’t have convinced me of that back then,” Deiss said. “From that point on, I always tried to be the best I could be at anything, especially when it came to academics. I made myself a promise that one day I would return to Texas A&M and earn my ring and diploma.”
After leaving Texas A&M for the second time in two years, Deiss joined the Houston Fire Department in 1978, and served there until retiring in 2004. During those 26 years, he served as a firefighter, EMT, paramedic and engineer.
In 1982, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve and became a flight medic on Medevac helicopters.
“I had a desire to serve my country,” Deiss said. “My family has a strong military history that goes back to the Civil War, so you could say it was in my blood. “
After several years in the Reserves, Deiss was accepted into the Army’s Warrant Officer Candidate Rotary Wing flight school, where he learned to fly helicopters. There were originally 38 students in the class, but by graduation, only 12 remained.
“The academics were an intense challenge, but I thank Dean Cooper for that wake-up call decades earlier,” he said.
Deiss flew the UH-1V Huey in the Medevac role and completed combat Medevac missions during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Later, he flew the AH-64A Apache gunship and also served in Central America and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
It wasn’t until his last tour of duty in Iraq in 2009 that the idea to return to Texas A&M seemed reachable.
“I reflected on my life’s journey up to that point and often thought of my beloved Texas A&M,” Deiss said. “It’s something that takes hold of you when you are an Aggie, that there is indeed a spirit that can never be told.”
So one day Deiss found himself on the Association of Former Students’ website and sent an email asking how best to make the journey back to Texas A&M. Somehow, through a string of emails, he was connected to Porter Garner ’79, president and CEO of The Association.
“We quickly became friends and often sent emails to each other,” Deiss said. “I was injured near the end of my tour in 2010 and spent two years in the Warrior Transition Unit at Brooke Army Medical Center. Porter came to visit me and that selfless act spoke volumes about how Aggies take care of Aggies.”
Deiss enrolled at Texas A&M for a third and final time in 2015, choosing to pursue a degree in university studies – leadership.
As a nontraditional student and Aggie veteran, Deiss learned the importance of embracing change.
“My studies have taught me that we are all agents of change,” he said. “We all bring something to the table, and change is good.”
“As a nontraditional student, I am very aware of what it took for me to get here. Forty plus years is a long time to wait to complete something, and I have been encouraged in my journey by some truly amazing people,” Deiss added.
It was Garner who introduced Deiss to Col. Tom “Ike” Morris ’33 and his family.
In 2016, Morris made a gift to The Association of Former Students to establish an Endowed Aggie Ring Scholarship. Earlier this year, Deiss became the first recipient of Morris’ scholarship, receiving his Aggie gold from Texas A&M’s oldest known Aggie.
“I have survived four overseas deployments and seen many things,” Deiss said, “but receiving my Aggie ring from Col. Ike is one of the highest honors ever bestowed upon me.”
As Deiss prepares to walk the stage and earn his Aggie diploma after all these years, he can’t help but reflect on those early life lessons that set the tone for his life’s journey.
My early failure in academics basically set the stage on how important an education is to me,” he said. “I made a vow to myself that if I was ever given the opportunity again to receive an education, I would not squander it.”
“And now as a graduate of Texas A&M, I want to give back to my alma mater for all the support and encouragement they have graciously given to me over the years,” Deiss said.