BARSTOW - Mike Chavez jogged over to his son Mikie Chavez Jr. and handed him a bottle of water during the Barstow High School soccer alumni game on Christmas Eve at Barstow High School.

Mike and Mikie shared a brief conversation before Mike patted his son on the back as the elder Chavez returned to coaching while Mikie went back to playing against this year's Barstow squad.

It's the first time the two have met up on the soccer field in nearly a year and a half. It's a moment that almost never happened.

When Mikie enlisted in the Army after graduating from Barstow High School, Mike Chavez resigned as coach of the Barstow soccer team, a position he held for two seasons, because he felt he wouldn't be able to focus. He knew his son would on his way to Iraq.

"It was too hard for me," he said. "My mind wasn't completely here, and it was not going to be fair to these kids here."

Mike bought a laptop just so he could stay in better contact with his son. The two e-mailed each other about four times a week and sometimes conducted video chats during Mikie's time in Iraq. Their e-mail conversations eventually led to Mike's return to the Barstow High School soccer team.

Jose Tapia earned the job as head coach for the Barstow soccer program in September. However, Tapia, who was an assistant coach on the football team, didn't have time to begin running tryouts or practices. Several players brought up Mike's name as coach they remembered and respected, and Tapia reached out to the former Barstow coach.

Tapia asked for Mike's help, but he wasn't ready to commit with the emotional pull of his son still at war.

During the Chavezes' regular e-mail conversations, the elder Chavez asked his son what he thought about him returning to the soccer sidelines. Mikie's response gave Mike the confidence to make his return.

When Mike explained to his son that it would be a battle for him to return to coaching while Mikie was still in Iraq, his son replied, "Dad, your war ain't nothing compared to the war I got to go through."

"That right there just got me pumped up," Mike said. "He built my confidence up by telling me, `Dad you are a great coach. You deserve to be out there.' "
For now, Mike has the best of both worlds. Mikie returned safely to Alaska where he was stationed in mid-November.

The soccer team has also benefited from Mike's return, said Tapia. Tapia and Chavez have helped the Aztecs to a near-.500 3-4-2 record.

"He's doing everything as enthusiastic as he always has," Tapia said. "I don't know where we'd be without him."

Mikie, who is a sergeant, recently re-enlisted and is thinking about making a career out of the military. Mikie said he could be back Iraq as soon as Jan. 2009.

"We all have what we are good at," Mike said. "I feel he's good at it because he came back alive. I'm so proud of him."

When the father-son combo last worked together on the soccer field, Mike was the coach of the Barstow soccer team in 2005 and Mikie was a senior on the team. On the field, their father and son relationship disappeared.

"It's just like a regular player and a coach," Mikie said. "I don't call him dad. If I do he makes me run laps. He treats me like any player out there."

During a Barstow High School soccer alumni game there is no such tension between the two. The elder Chavez was just glad to see his son, who returned to Barstow two days before the alumni game, home after a 14-month tour in Iraq.

He pointed to the large smile on his face and said, "This tells it all."

"I don't even have enough words to describe my son being home. It's a lot of weight off my shoulders now that he's home."

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(760) 256-4124 or matthew_peters@link.freedom.com