Airmen Learn Life Lessons From Sleight of Hand

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- When a first sergeant shows a coin to his Airmen at roll call, they usually expect him to present it to someone under his command to be recognized for their exemplary service. So when this first sergeant made a coin disappear, it was unlike anything they had seen before. And when he lit a candle on top of a table simply by looking at it, this was also a first.

So how does the coin disappear and how does the candle ignite itself?

The simple answer: magic.

Master Sgt. Micheal Webb put his magic to work and executed these illusions with a desire to inform, entertain and educate the Airmen in the 117th Air Refueling Wing. Webb was the acting first sergeant of the wing from January until September 2016. He communicated messages to his troops through incredible tricks that grasped and held their attention, which drove home messages that he desired to instill.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said the Command Chief of the 117 ARW, Chief Master Sgt. David Bullard. “It is a bit unorthodox in terms of typical business at roll call but it was highly effective in terms of delivering a message and having people leaving roll call thinking about that message.”

Some of those messages included the importance of family care planning, the joy of giving and the importance of utilizing proper safety equipment.

Webb drove home family care planning during a roll call by utilizing a newspaper in one of his magic tricks. Each section of the newspaper represented a member in the family. Displaying each individual section, he demonstrated that they each related to a son, a father, a daughter and so forth as he tore the paper in pieces. The family, like the now-torn newspaper, were individuals. As he spoke of the importance of implementing a sound family care plan, Webb slowly reassembled the paper to its original form. Now miraculously undamaged, Webb illustrated how a sound plan can alleviate pressures and make a complete functional family unit after someone has been called away for an extended amount of time, as the torn newspaper had become whole again.

“Most roll calls involve slides or information to be given and send people on to the mission of the day,” said Bullard. “His professionalism in the presentations provided entertainment but also positive mentoring moments to grasp on to.”

Webb took pride in providing a unique experience to his Airmen, practicing during his spare time to perfect the tricks. In addition to the intended message of the day, he always wanted the Airmen to utilize situational awareness. By following, or trying to figure out how he was able to achieve the illusions, he believes it gets a person to think about things a step ahead or notice subtle changes that are easy to miss.

“I’m not getting up there and saying look at how skillful or witty I am,” the magician said. “You have to look at misdirection, not only in magic but in everyday life. I want them to always get the big picture. Never let your guard down and have a strong sense of awareness at all times.”

Webb has been a professional magician for approximately 25 years and began his career shortly after high school, earning money for performances while attending college. He was fortunate enough to perform in Atlanta’s ‘The Underground’ for Coca-Cola during the 1996 Olympics and now prepares to work the 2021 World Games in Birmingham.

From a very young age, the art of illusion has been a big part of Webb’s life. His interest in magic was ignited after receiving a magic set as a Christmas gift at age five, and performing his first show for his third-grade class. Returning to his permanent position as a network administrator supervisor after completing his stint as first sergeant, he feels fortunate to have the opportunity to lead Airmen and deliver information in his own way. He believes more personal interaction is a better way to communicate.

“I have always found a way to share magic,” Webb said. “This is the first time I have implemented and used teaching in terms of magic in the military. As first sergeant, you have to look out for your people. I want them to always be aware of their surroundings and be more conscious because as the world goes more toward a digital realm, we get away from talking and interacting and people lose sight of what is happening around them.”
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