“Military Appreciation Weekend” is a staple promotion at every level of every professional sport in North America, especially in the United States of America. A weekend like that is just one of the few ways that we at the Rush organization can thank the brave men and women of our nation for their present and past dedication and service to our country, and for defending the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens. It also affords us the opportunity to highlight servicemembers and their careers and allows us to understand their accomplishments and various lessons learned throughout their time in the military.
United States Air Force Major Michael “LOBO” Webster is one of these many brave men committing his life to preserving our country’s freedom and liberties through military service. An airman for over 10 years, Maj. Webster is currently a B-1 Instructor Weapon Systems Officer and Assistant Director of Operations with the 37th Bomb Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. He is also the fiancé of our Vice President of Business Development, Valerie Persinger.
“It really means a lot to have the support of the local community. The reason we serve and do our jobs is to protect this country, its values, and the men and women who make it up,” Maj. Webster said prior to “Military Appreciation Weekend”. “It is great to see this local community give that support back to us. It’s also great to see that the Rush not only supports and appreciates those in the service right now, but also those that have previously served this great nation.”
Maj. Webster’s career has taught him about life, teamwork, and work ethic while braving the many challenges military dedication places in his path. Despite the difficulty of such a career, it has provided him with countless experiences, friends, and memories that will last for the rest of his life, including one such moment that any sports fan, let alone service member, could ever dream of.
This year, Maj. Webster was a part of the flight team that participated in the flyover for Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay, Florida at Raymond James Stadium.
In order to grasp this once in a lifetime experience, one must reflect on the road traveled to get there. For Maj. Webster, it all started as a student at Clemson University in the late 2000’s.
“The military was something I’ve always respected, and respected very highly,” Maj. Webster said. “When I was going through college, I felt like I needed something more out of my job, whatever that became. It came down to wanting to feel like I earned both my place in this country and all the amazing benefits you get just by being an American. I wanted to feel like I was doing my part.”
Maj. Webster studied Packaging Science at Clemson University, graduating in December of 2009. Despite his appreciation for the military that he would soon be a part of, a career in the military wasn’t on his radar until after his college studies were completed.
“I didn’t look at ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), or even really consider a military career while I was in college. I was around it quite often tough,” he explained. “All of my best friends from school, and still to this day, were in ROTC, and most of them still serve in the Air Force. I was around it a lot going through Clemson, so I saw it and became quite familiar and comfortable with it.
“I didn’t really consider a military career until my last semester of my senior year at Clemson. I wanted to look at a few other options before I jumped into the packaging industry after I graduated, and this was the decision I led to. I don’t know if I really had an ‘epiphany’ per se on my ultimate decision to join the military. It started as a consideration,” he continued, “then accepting the comfort of going down this route. Like I said, I was very comfortable being around the ROTC guys. It was more of a long, drawn out situation and decision than it was a sudden inspiration to get up and join the armed forces.”
Maj. Webster received his commission into the United States Air Force in April of 2011. According to Maj. Webster, there are multiple routes that can lead to an Air Force commission. For some, it is a page out of his college friends’ books and joining a college ROTC program. For others, it entails enrolling in the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In Maj. Webster’s case, it was enrolling in Officer Training School (OTS), which meant traveling to Montgomery, Alabama and Maxwell Air Force Base, one of the many stops along the way in his decade-plus of service.
“After I completed OTS, I ventured down to Pensacola, Florida, and began my undergraduate combat systems officer training, or CSO. That was about a year-long process. It was getting basic ‘airmanship’, learning to fly a couple of different planes, and got more in-depth on the different kinds of planes that we could go to. After that year, I got selected to go to the B-1 and went to Abilene, Texas and Dyess Air Force Base and did my qualification school there. That was another six-month process.”
Maj. Webster explained that selection for an airman’s plane and squadron is two-fold. As he stated, you put together a “dream sheet”, if you will, and then it is up to the needs of the Air Force.
“Basically, you tell them what you want, they tell you what they need, and you hope that the two match up. Luckily, that was the case for me. The two matched up, and I got to fly the plane that I hoped I could,” he said.
“The B-1 is a more tactical plane. You’re sticking your nose in the fight, which is what I wanted to do. Being in a plane like the B-1, perfectly honest, is awesome,” Maj. Webster explained. “There’s a lot going on inside and outside of the jet. It’s a lot like a team sport where you’re relying on your other teammates on the crew to make things go. Everyone is responsible for their own job, and you rely on each other to execute your respective jobs. At the end of the day, you execute your job so I can execute mine, we all keep each other safe and complete the mission.”
The B-1 has provided no shortage of experiences for Maj. Webster and his crew. It could be training missions flying around the United States, or performing exercises with other planes or international aircraft and maintaining those relations. Maj. Webster has also been deployed numerous times in his career to locations all over the world. As previously mentioned, he has seen his training and service fly him through Montgomery, Alabama, Pensacola, Florida, Abilene, Texas, Washington State, and South Dakota where he currently works at Ellsworth Air Force Base.
“A lot of the previously mentioned activity helps us build our tactical prowess, if you will. My deployments have placed me in combat missions as well, and that’s what we do the training for: to get the practice so we can execute when we are overseas,” he expanded. “There are also moments like the Super Bowl flyover that are more high visibility, which is a great opportunity for the Air Force to show what we can do. Moments like that, meeting up with other planes at the same point in the sky at the same time, takes a lot of planning and hard work. That part of the training is definitely not lost on missions like a flyover because it’s really all over the place with what your flights will be for that. At the end of the day, you’re training so when the rubber hits the road, everyone is ready to go, execute, and complete the mission as required.”
According to Maj. Webster, the 37th Bomb Squadron of which he is a part of is primarily comprised of B-1 aviators, airmen responsible for intel, enlisted individuals maintaining flight records, and commander support staff assisting with evaluations and making sure everyone’s careers are progressing. He did note that despite the many moving parts to the squadron, it is mainly consists of B-1 pilots and WSO’s, or Weapon Systems Officers.
When he’s flying the plane, Maj. Webster is an Instructor Weapon Systems Officer, a flight officer directly involved in all air operations and weapon systems of a military aircraft. When not in the skies, he is an Assistant Director of Operations for the 37th.
“I work directly for the DO, the Director of Operations, the number two in command. Basically, everyone’s ground job is to make the squadron run,” Maj. Webster elaborated. “We have folks that are responsible for our training, making sure everyone in the squadron is receiving the right training and improving our training plans to get people upgraded. We have folks in charge of safety, scheduling, making sure we’re getting all the flights and simulations that we need. There are other individuals who are tasked with creating scenarios to train to as well. The ground jobs throughout the squadron, at the end of the day, make sure we’re trained up and ready to go once it’s time to do so.
“From the perspective of our ground jobs, we work behind a desk for a lot of the time when we’re not studying, simulating, or flying. You progress as you’re in the squadron a little longer. Like I said, I’ve been in the service for just over 10 years, so I’ve made my progression through being a new person in the squadron, in charge of morale supplies, and then you get an actual job in the squadron like training or scheduling and supporting those shops,” he continued. “As you move along, you’ll eventually get to Flight Commander, so you’re in charge of those folks and making sure that shop runs while working with other shops, all pulling in the same direction. In essence, it’s like a normal career progression: you work your way through the ranks.”
It is not lost on anyone the trials and tribulations that come with military service, regardless of what branch these brave men and women serve in. While the last decade of service brought Maj. Webster to incredible locations and provided him with a lifetime of friends and memories, military service comes with challenges. In his eyes, the one constant he sees as a challenge is rather simple.
“I don’t think its any big surprise, really. Everyone in the service sacrifices a lot, especially their time,” he poignantly stated. “You miss time with family and friends due to normal workload, and then there’s deployments during the holiday seasons that can complicate things further. Even if you’re stateside for the holidays, being willing to move and be dislocated from family and friends is a sacrifice. Those are the usual challenges, but the biggest ones nonetheless.”
That sacrifice and dedication led Maj. Webster to a pinnacle moment in his military career. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any active duty airman.
It is even more of a dream come true if you’re a sports fan.
For context, Maj. Webster is an avid football fan. A graduate of Clemson University, two-time College Football Playoff National Champions, and a native of Wisconsin, proud supporter of the legendary Green Bay Packers, football runs deep in his family and his life.
At many major outdoor sporting events, a military flyover takes place while the United States colors are displayed and the national anthem is performed. For Maj. Webster and the 37th at Ellsworth AFB, he had the opportunity and honor of a lifetime to actively participate in the crew for the flyover to help kickstart Super Bowl LV in Tampa Bay, Florida between the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and defending champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Maj. Webster jests that the decision, and process, for how Ellsworth AFB was selected for and decided to participate in the fly over was “above his paygrade”, but nonetheless, was a very willing volunteer once the plans were shared with the base.
“It was a few months in the making, but when the time came, our commander asked us for volunteers. Needless to say, my hand shot up fast,” Maj. Webster recalled. “I was lucky enough to be selected to participate and head it up for the B-1’s at Ellsworth. From that point on, it was talking to the folks that were in charge of the flyover, talking to the other mission leads from the B-2 and B-52 bombers, and coordinating the timeline and additional logistics. I also had to make sure everyone on base was in the loop on what the game plan was to make sure everything could go off without a hitch. It was lots of planning with maintenance and public affairs and everyone on the wing, because they have such an important hand in making these flights happen.
“Like I mentioned as well, a big piece to the puzzle was communication with the other mission leads for the B-2 and B-52 and coming up with our game plan. Once we got closer to execution, it was all talk of when and where would we rejoin, how do we get all of these planes in the same piece of sky, and how we’re going to execute and get over the stadium on time.
“We were very fortunate because for this Super Bowl and this run, we had the opportunity to practice. However, that’s not always the case,” he explained. “Sometimes you get just one shot, so you have to make sure you’re right on the money for that one shot. It goes back to all of our training. It might not be that specific to flyovers for sporting events, let alone the Super Bowl, but you have to be ready for anything. You have to know your jet, its capabilities, and how you’re going to execute so that when you do only have the one shot, no matter what that is, that you execute.”
Like any major sporting event, and in tandem like any major sports fan, Maj. Webster disclosed that the emotions were at an all-time high. There was excitement, appreciation for the moment, and adrenaline flowing from participating in one of sports most international spectacles in the Super Bowl. However, it was not lost on anyone that this was very much still a mission to accomplish.
“We were really pumped and excited for the opportunity, but we’re also used to executing as we plan. While we were excited, we also have the capability to put on the blinders, if you will, and focus on what we need to get to where we need to be when we need to be there. It’s like guys and gals in sports always talk about how they’re able to focus on what they’re doing and block out the noise. Once we turned inbound and knew we were going to be there on time, we let loose a bit. There were definitely some cheers on board for a mission accomplished and well executed. At the end of the day, it was incredible. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was an honor to be a part of. I hope we did a bunch of people proud through our community, through the Air Force, and through our family and friends.”
The Super Bowl flyover was the culmination of the 10+ years of service for Maj. Webster. All these years later, the reflection on that journey is still special for the B-1 aviator.
“I can’t say I have one major takeaway from my service thus far. I’ll say this tough: I’ve been very lucky that things have worked out the way they have for me. I just wanted to do my duty and serve, even if it was just for the four years, I still felt like I had done my part. The fact that I’ve been in for 10 years and still enjoying it, and done things that I never in my life would’ve dreamed of doing or thought would’ve been possible, like the Super Bowl flyover, its been a blessing. I’ve enjoyed my career so far, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.
“As far as future goals are concerned, the biggest thing for me is I hope I can keep having a job that I enjoy doing as much as I do that continues to give me amazing opportunities for as long as I enjoy it and the people that I work with. That’s what makes this all worth it: enjoy what I do and who I do it with, and I can honestly say I’ve done that for the last 10 years.
Maj. Webster concluded: “If a military career is something that you’re interested in and passionate about, go for it. Just like anything in life, if you work hard, you’ll see the success you deserve. If this is something you want to do, then work hard for it and only bright things will come to you.”
The Rush will honor all of the men and women who have served and continue to serve this country on “Military Appreciation Weekend”, which is presented in partnership with South Dakota Army National Guard and Ebelution Heating & Cooling. “Military Appreciation Weekend” will take place on May 21st and 22nd against the Indy Fuel. The Rush will wear specialty jerseys, also sponsored by Ebelution Heating & Cooling, that will be auctioned following the Saturday game. Active-duty military and veterans can buy tickets for both games for $15 each at the Rush office.