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NEWS | June 29, 2017

Medical Education and Training Campus instructor brings magic into classroom

By David DeKunder 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

It’s been several years since Staff Sgt. John Blaz performed his last magic show, but the Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston medical instructor is still performing magic for a captive audience – his students.

Blaz, Interservice Respiratory Therapy Program instructor at the Medical Education and Training Campus at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston, uses magic to connect to his students by doing a variety of tricks at the start of each class.

Blaz said he likes performing magic tricks for the students because it is a good icebreaker and it gets the students into the mindset of learning.

“First and foremost, I love the Army and I love serving,” he said. “I love being an instructor in the field of respiratory therapy. Magic is a tool that I apply to enhance and stir up the imagination before I start teaching. Hopefully, it gets them more mentally prepared, or more open and receptive to learning.”

The son of an Army veteran, Blaz said his love for magic started at the age 10, when he saw a magician perform at a shopping center in Guam, where he grew up.

“He made birds appear, he did a whole bunch of tricks, and that started my interest,” Blaz said.

After watching the magician perform, Blaz’s curiosity in the craft of magic grew. He went to the library where he read books on magic and how it was performed.

“The more and more I learned, the more I fell in love with the art of magic,” he said.

Blaz started performing at birthday parties and school functions when he was 12 years old. At the age of 14, he was inducted into the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the world’s largest organization for both professional and amateur magicians.

After graduating from high school, Blaz became a professional magician on a dinner boat in Guam, performing seven days a week. He did that for four years before he decided to join the Army at the age of 22.

Blaz has served for 17 years in the Army, enlisting as an infantryman. He served in combat deployments in Afghanistan, Iraqi and Africa before being becoming a respiratory therapist, Military Occupational Specialty 68V, in 2005. Blaz has been a respiratory therapist for 11 years and has been a METC instructor for a year.

While Blaz loved being a magician and performing tricks, he said he felt the call to serve in the military, especially since it ran in his bloodlines.

His father had served in Vietnam, receiving the Distinguished Service Cross award for his actions in combat, and Blaz’s grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy, was a member of the Insular Force Guard, a unit formed by the Navy in 1941 to defend Guam before the start of World War II. When Japan invaded and took over the island in December 1941, his grandfather became a prisoner of war.

U.S. forces liberated Guam in 1944 after three years of Japanese occupation.

Since Blaz’s father was the Veterans Affairs director for Guam, he met several World War II veterans who would visit the island each year. Those veterans fought and helped liberate Guam from the Japanese.

“I have always had a desire to serve,” Blaz said. “Growing up in Guam, where there is a lot of patriotism, I felt it was time for me to serve my country.”

This past spring, Blaz did a magic show for the 188th Medical Battalion Family and Readiness Group for children and servicemembers. He did the show at the request of his company commander.

Blaz said magic is about making people feel that anything is possible.

“Magic sparks wonder,” he said. “It kind of stuns your mind: How is it possible in the moment? I’m trying to captivate the audience for a moment and suspend their disbelief. For a second they snap out of their reality; it’s like an escape for a second. I love watching a good magic show or magic trick.”