Balloon-twisting Soldier entertains kids
May 10, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Working in a library, one would think things would be sedate, quiet and predictable. Several weeks ago, children's librarian Cecilia Hem Lee, Thomas Lee Hall Library, had a visitor who definitely caught her off guard.
"This Soldier came into the library," Hem Lee said. "He said he had just come from a balloon twisting conference and wanted to volunteer. I thought he was pranking me. I started to look around for a camera."
It was no prank. Staff Sgt. Jared Doss, a student at the Recruiting and Retention school, was quite serious as he introduced himself as a balloon artist and offered to make balloon animals for the children at Sleepy Story Time Thursday evenings.
"We're not talking just little balloon animals," Hem Lee said. "He does amazing elaborate animals and objects."
For recent Sleepy Story Time events he's done swords, a helicopter, a monkey climbing a tree, and an elephant balancing itself on a ball.
Ross came straight from class at the Recruiting and Retention School every Thursday to delight and entertain children, parents and staff.
"I thoroughly enjoy making people smile and have found balloons to be a great vehicle to do so," Doss said. "Besides, we can all spare just a couple of hours a week to make others happy, right?"
Doss first discovered the joy of balloon artistry as an elementary school teacher.
"I picked up a small pack of balloons at Walgreens and learned to make a basic sword, dog and teddy bear," he said. "Two years ago, at my unit's organization day just before deployment, there was a balloon artist who offered to teach me. I took him up on his offer and became hooked."
Doss, who is a wheeled vehicle mechanic in the Army, says he is constantly learning the art of balloon twisting.
"Really, it's a never ending process," Doss said. For Doss, the universal appeal of balloons is what he likes best about his unusual hobby. "I love the fact that no matter what age, race, sex, or how tough someone pretends to be, balloons make everyone smile."
Although Doss can earn from $75 to $125 per hour making balloon sculptures for parties and special events, he has no intention of turning it into a full-time pursuit.
"I think if I 'needed' to make balloons in order to support my family, it might take the fun out of it. And fun is what it's all about," he said.
Doss has a large repertoire of things he can make, and occasionally gets some interesting requests. Once he was asked to make a metal detector, "I made it, and the little boy was ecstatic," he said.
Popular requests are his monkey climbing a tree and an octopus. Doss can't contain his joy and everyone knows about his hobby making him very popular with this friends and relatives who have children and need entertainment for children's parties. He has never needed to advertise, as word of mouth keeps him busy with an event nearly every weekend.
As a Soldier, he has endured some good-natured teasing from his fellow Soldiers.
"Everyone around me knows I do this. I can't hide it. It's a part of me. I get ribbed on occasion, but even the guys who once gave me a hard time, have asked me to make a bouquet or something for their wife or girlfriend," Doss said.
Doss is married and has two daughters, 14 years and 9 months old.
"My oldest is 'too cool' and my youngest doesn't quite understand it yet," he said, "but I can't wait until she does."
It's hard to tell who had more fun at the library, Doss, the children or the staff.
"Cecilia (Hem Lee) and the library staff are incredible. I think sometimes they are more excited than the kids," Doss said. "They were definitely welcoming, and I feel blessed to have met them."
The staff members at the library expressed their gratitude and sadness that Doss' class has come to an end and he will be moving on.
"He's just so incredibly talented," Hem Lee said. "You are watching him, trying to figure out how he does it and then, just like that he hands you a lady bug, or a tiara, or a coconut tree. We were reading the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar and I expected him to make a butterfly. He made a huge colorful caterpillar. It was amazing. We are so grateful that he came every week and gave his time and shared his talent with us for free."
To learn more about Doss, visit http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jared-the-Balloon-Guy/118693641526507.