A Lone Star College-Kingwood student and Veteran has overcome unbeatable odds, and seemingly unsurmountable obstacles – to follow his dreams for a higher education.
James J.E. Robayo I is attending college at age 50 and his son is taking classes right along with him.
Robayo was recently elected President of the Student Veterans Association on the LSC-Kingwood campus. He comes from a long line of military service, with family members serving as far back as the Civil War.
He served in the U.S. Army as a UH-60 Blackhawk Crew Chief and Door Gunner.
“I volunteered for any deployment that I could get in on,” Robayo said. “I trained with some of the best Opposition Forces in the world, learning war tactics in many different environments and scenarios.”
Robayo also served in the Third Balkan Wars. In 1995, his unit, the 1st Armored Division and 4th Aviation Cavalry Brigade, was called upon by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty organization) to be a part of IFOR (Implementation Force) for Operation Joint Endeavor in Tuzla, Bosnia. During that time, they worked to halt the Serbian eradication of the Bosnian people. He finished his enlistment in 1998.
Robayo’s path to college was not an easy one by any means. Shortly after marrying, his wife died tragically in a car accident, leaving him to raise his young son, just a toddler at the time. Then he faced his own life-threatening health issues.
“I’ve been in a coma, I’ve died on the operating table, I’ve bled out taking 42 units of blood to keep me alive…I have been paralyzed from the waist down and brought myself to learn how to walk all over again,” he said.
Robayo said following all those struggles, he needed a change. He decided to enroll at Lone Star College-Kingwood and pursue a degree in journalism. Then he discovered the Student Veterans Association, which brought back the comradery of his time in the military.
“I want to leave a legacy of better support and great events for future student veterans,” Robayo shared. “I decided to run for president so that I could lead the organization into a new era of understanding, participation, where all veteran and veteran affiliated students feel welcome. The mark I want to leave for future SVA members and Executive Officers is that we should ‘Aim to serve; not be served.’ As the ‘old man’ of the group I hope that I can tie in my military and life experiences into something all SVA members can learn from and take on with them through the future.”
What’s even more special about Robayo attending college at LSC-Kingwood, is that his 19-year-old son is also attending right alongside him. He is pursuing a career in the funeral service industry to become a mortician.
“It has always been only my dad and I, taking care of each other wherever we can,” his son says. “We have faced many struggles but kept together through it all. When I discovered we would be going to school together I was honestly excited, knowing that even now, I know that at least one person will have my back there. The SVA has helped a lot too. They have always made me feel welcome and over the time I have spent with them, they feel like a second family.”
With Veterans Day approaching, Robayo says it’s a time for him to reflect.
“To me this is a very important day, as we recognize the sacrifices of all our military past and present, also celebrating that they are still with us on this side of heaven. The veterans that gave their all to our country are never far from thought. Any time I hear the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ or say the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, I still get emotional, choked up, and this gut pull. I am reminded of all the things I’ve done, the places I’ve been and things I’ve seen,” Robayo said.
And he has advice for his fellow Coyotes: “Get involved in your classes. Find your voice. Don’t be afraid to speak in class and give an answer even if it is deemed incorrect. You will learn a lot more by putting yourself out there.”