For the love of country and wrestling
February 29, 2012
ROCHESTER — Rochester Adams wrestling coach Mike Holtz made sure to get to practice early his first day back Jan. 9.
Just a day before, he had flown in from Kandahar, Afghanistan after completing a four-month deployment with the Air National Guard.
“One of the things I missed most was just hitting the mats, talking to the guys, seeing their faces and trying to help them be more successful and grow,” Holtz said during a break Feb. 8.
The coach, 29, said he planned on easing himself back into practice, taking time to introduce himself to new grapplers and eventually merge back into the head coach position, but that plan lasted 24 hours.
“The next day we had a meet, so we had our team meeting, team prayer and then when the whistle blows, a switch just flips, and you can’t just ease into it,” he said.
By day, Holtz is a financial advisor and wrestling coach, but in the Air National Guard, which he’s been a member for 10 years, he’s a Staff Sgt. in the 451st Fighter Squadron.
He was stationed at Kandahar Air Base and was responsible for putting together and constructing munitions that go on the aircraft.
Holtz’s brothers, Jonathan and Tim, both also members of the Air National Guard, joined him in Afghanistan. Holtz has a third brother, Brian, who is also a member but wasn’t on this deployment.
Holtz, who was also deployed to Iraq in 2004, said each deployment is unique, and admitted that he comes back a changed person.
“Not in a bad way or a good way, just different. You mature even quicker than you are maturing, and you start to appreciate things you take for granted back home,” he said. “Being able to go to and from without a worry in the world; to be able to walk barefoot or going to the grocery store or church and not ever worrying other than, ‘Hey, I hope there isn’t traffic.’ Over there, the bad guys try to hurt you every day.”
Though Holtz pointed out that he enjoyed meeting the local population.
“They just want what every other person wants: to support their family, to be able to raise kids in a safe environment and to be able to make a living supporting their family’s needs,” he said. “They don’t want Abercrombie or Starbucks, they just want their little piece of Afghanistan, and for their kids to be able to go to school. … Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, but all my interactions were positive.”
Even a half a world away, Holtz never stopped being a coach. He sent a postcard to each wrestler encouraging them, and his goal now is to use his experience to teach his wrestlers to keep perspective.
“You don’t think about how blessed you are when you grow up in Rochester Hills,” he said. “We talk to the guys, and they think they’re having it so tough or a bad day because we’re getting on them to work harder, push harder. So you try to put it in perspective so that they can relate and let them know we’re pretty fortunate.”
Senior Jack Sicheneder said he and his teammates look up to their coach and was excited for his return.
“We already did, but him going off and fighting for us, it really makes us appreciate and respect him,” the 189-pounder said. “It was exciting having him back, but at the same time, we knew he was ready to go. It was time to buckle it up and get going. He brings an energy and attitude that is contagious in the room.”
Holtz said he plans on being in the service for at least 10 more years and there’s a strong chance he’ll be deployed again, but not for at least another 18 months.
“I’m ready, able and willing to leave tomorrow if I have to,” he said. “The military has taught me so much about how fortunate we are, and other than wrestling in high school, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life.”