Abracadabra! Story of part-time magician, full-time Airman

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Tom Brading
  • Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories and commentaries focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

"I will make this dove disappear!" the tall, silver-haired magician confidently says to the crowd.

His audience, a small group of children, eagerly watches as he carefully places the white bird into a mysterious black box and covers it with a cloth.

The magician quickly removes the cloth and reveals the dove has vanished. The children collectively gasp in astonishment.

However, this illusionist has more up his sleeve than dematerializing birds. When he isn't performing magical acts, he is lacing his boots as an active-duty service member in the U.S. Air Force.

Master Sgt. Perry Woods, the 437th Airlift Wing programs manager here, is a 22-year Air Force veteran. In his spare time he volunteers by performing magic to under-privileged and disabled children.

On stage, Woods is known as Perry Don. His large black suitcase is full of live animals and props to enhance his show. He has perfected his magic act since he was about 9 years old.

"I thought magic was something spectacular to see," Woods said. "At the same time, I was fascinated with what made it happen. I was interested, but there were very few avenues to explore the area of magic."

Woods, a 43-year-old Florida native, first explored his fascination with magic by visiting local magic shops in Kissimmee, Fla. He saved what little money he had to learn the basics of being a magician.

As a teenager, however, Woods started to give up his childhood dream.

"I didn't have anybody to associate myself with," Woods said. "When I was a teenager, nobody I knew was interested in magic."

Growing up with no money or support, Woods became discouraged with his early ambitions.

"Pursuing magic was my dream," he said. "However, I was ready to become my own man."

Woods "became his own man" when he walked out of the magic shop and into a military recruiting office. He enlisted into the Air Force at the age of 21. He didn't do magic again for seven years.

"My first show after becoming an Airman was in Alaska," Woods explained. "It was a children's birthday party and didn't go very well."

Although his first performance in years didn't go as planned, it gave Woods an opportunity to experience magic again. From that moment on, he didn't look back.

For his next trick, he became a NCO educating Airmen, who were fresh from basic military training, at Shepherd Air Force Base, Texas.

"As an electrical systems instructor at Shepherd AFB for four and a half years, I incorporated magic tricks into topics I lectured about during class," Woods said. "Doing magic acts involving educational topics sparked a deep interest and grabbed the student's attention.

"The students never knew what I would do next," he added. "Objects might appear to be moving across the table or levitating in the air. They didn't know what to think or expect!

"I always had my attention-getter," Woods said. "From magnetism to knot tying, I knew how to keep the students listening."

Woods' students often had some of the best scores in the school. He said he believes incorporating magic into the curriculum was a factor into the students' grades.

"The Air Force has given me a lot of opportunities," Woods said. "Being able to use my magic to educate young Airmen was my way of giving back to it."

After arriving at JB Charleston, Woods continued using his magic performance to give back to the community. For the last three years, Woods has performed for the hospice organization "Shannon's Hope," a therapeutic camp for children ages 6 through 15 who have experienced the death of someone they love.

"Some years, Shannon's Hope has a large audience," he said. "However, other years I'll perform shows to smaller audiences. You never know, but it's always an honor, no matter what size the audience may be, to assist in providing stepping stones for the children's stumbling blocks."

Shannon's Hope was introduced to Woods by Oscar Smalls, a 76-year-old, 56-year magic veteran and member of the Roundtable of Magicians Society. Smalls is currently mentoring Woods as a developing magician and helping him network with other magicians.

"Oscar and I have performed magic together for the last three years," Woods said. "Recently, the number of shows I've done has greatly increased."

Another recent show was at Pattison's Academy, which helps disabled children through education, interaction and professional therapy.

"Pattison's Academy was a great experience," Woods said. "Being a part of an organization that helps children in need is very memorable.

"Another memorable performance was at the site of the Jenkins Orphanage in North Charleston," he added.

The Jenkins Orphanage, now officially known as the Jenkins Institute for Children, was established in 1891 by Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins for African-American children living on the streets in Charleston, N.C.

"It's an honor to work with people that share the community" Woods said. "Oscar does this because he performs strictly from his heart. Like me."

Woods estimates he has invested more than $6,000 of his own money into performing magic.

"I don't do magic for the money," Woods said. "In fact, I've invested a lot of my own personal time and money into perfecting my performance. I do magic simply for the smiles on people's faces. Those smiles are the real magic."