Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer Tyler Holt, an E-6 Petty Officer, says he joined the Coast Guard after high school even though his swimming skills were limited. His brother Michael, a former infantry Marine and Combat instructor of water survival, taught him the strokes he would need to know in order to make it through the grueling training of rescue swimmer school.
Today, Tyler, a Berea native and a 2004 Berea Community High School graduate, has completed over 24 months of USCG training programs, has obtained an Associate Degree and a Bachelor’s Degree in Science of Health and Wellness, and he is halfway through a Master’s in the same area. He, his wife Jenn, and their 11-year-old twins live in Sitka, AK, where he is stationed.
Tyler has been a rescue swimmer for several accidents on the water. Two stand out in his mind. One was an SOS from a large ship loaded with relief supplies going to Haiti. The ship hit something in in the water and it started sinking. “We ended up rescuing six people, one at a time from the sinking ship’s life raft. I swam each of the six survivors to the rescue basket lowered from the helicopter,” he said. “The last survivor had the ship’s dog. When the man and dog jumped in the water from the raft, the dog started swimming away from us into the dark and turbulent waves, but eventually he made a U-turn, swimming his little heart out to reach me and I put him in the basket.”
The other event didn’t turn out as well. A father, who was the pilot, and his two sons, ages 11 and 14, were in a helicopter that crashed into the water. “After intense searching for what seemed like hours, I spotted a sole survivor on our infrared camera and our helicopter landed on the beach. I got out and walked along the water. I saw a figure and he wrapped me in a bear hug and thanked me for coming.”
He was the 14 year-old son whose seat had separated from the cabin upon impact and so shortly after regaining consciousness, he had unbuckled his belt and swam to shore. He later told Tyler that he was thankful that the Lord had spared him so he might care for his mother and sisters.
In all rescue situations, Tyler is able to put his extensive training to use. That’s why he joined the Coast Guard. “This career looked challenging and exciting. I knew I would have the opportunity to save lives,” he said.
When he started the rescue swimming program, several Coast Guard members told him he might not make it. He may not have known then, but realized later that this program has a 60-75% failure rate.
Undaunted, Tyler persevered and made the cut. He is extremely disciplined. He said, “I’ve learned that whatever your field or craft may be, train hard and often and be as prepared
as you can be. Inspire confidence by being calm in emergency situations.”
Fifteen years ago, Tyler was a high school graduate, ready to embark on his future. His advice to recent graduates is very practical. “As you go out into the world, remember: every job or profession is a series of objectives. Decide what you wish to do or be; figure out the steps and go out and do it, excuses be damned. You get good at what you practice. Persistence and discipline are crucial skills. YOU are the only ones standing in your way.”
He certainly knows the wisdom of this advice since he competes against approximately 300 total rescue swimmers for his rank. His goal now is to achieve E-7 (Chief Officer), finish his master’s degree, and become a Health and Wellness coach after leaving the Coast Guard.
Tyler and his two siblings are all leaving a legacy of service to their country. As a Marine, Michael served a combat tour in IRAQ IN 2003. Their sister, Jennifer Levine, was a Marine for nine years, doing a tour in Iraq and occasionally accompanying the President or vice-President on international visits As part of HMX, the Marine Presidential Squadron. She also received a bachelor’s degree while in the service. She, her husband, a Marine Warrant Officer, and children are in Germany.
Their parents, Wendell Holt and Susan Holt, and many other family members live in Berea.