By Natalie A. Skelton, Beckley Recruiting BattalionNovember 5, 2013
BECKLEY, W.Va. -- At just over 6 feet tall with broad shoulders and a stern brow, Master Sgt. Daniel R. Lucas can be a little intimidating when he's in uniform. But when this recruiter sheds his camouflage for a much more colorful and conspicuous uniform, with face paint and a curly wig, he becomes much more approachable.
For the past several years Lucas, the Army Reserve Operations NCO for the Beckley Recruiting Battalion, has devoted much of his spare time to the antics and joy-inspiring whimsy of clowning around -- literally, as a painted-face, horn-honking, balloon-animal-making clown for the Shriners.
"I started through the Rhode Island Masonic Lodge in 2008," Lucas said. "All the officers there were clowns."
He began to learn the art of clowning by attending the two week course given by a founding member of Clown College and also a college instructor who served alongside him. Not long after his graduation, the Shriners fraternal organization made Lucas a lifetime member of its clown unit.
Being a part-time clown isn't something that's likely to come out in casual conversation with co-workers, but Lucas said when it does, "they usually think it's pretty cool - especially when they find out I'm a Shriners clown."
Co-worker and fellow Master Sgt. Ronald Jackson said the thought of Lucas being a clown is a little strange.
"I've got mixed emotions," Jackson said, "Although I'm not afraid of clowns, I see him as a noncommissioned officer who is a more professional member of recruiting and a 'brainiac.' Clowns don't have stats!"
Lucas said that clowning around has done just as much for him as it has for his audiences. He said it's helped reduce the amount of stress associated with full-time recruiting duties. "It's a form of therapy and an outlet to enjoy life," he said.
When "Bubba the Clown" (as he is known to his Shriner buddies) is not working or clowning around, Lucas spends time with his wife, Patricia, with whom he has three stepchildren and 10 grandchildren. He also dabbles at being a mechanic and as a HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) technician.
When in clown mode, Lucas and his fellow Shriner volunteers participate in events at hospitals, parades and fundraisers, with all proceeds going to support Shriners hospitals. "In April I participated in the Cherry Blossom parade," Lucas said. He also said that he still keeps in touch with the men who taught him his clown trade, in order to refine his clown skills and improve his performance.
For his part-time passion Lucas was awarded the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, but he said that it is the purpose behind clowning that keeps him involved.
"It started off as hanging out with my friends," he said. "I do it for the kids now. I never saw it as charity." The official International Shrine Clown Association's motto is, "No man stands so tall as when he stoops to help a child," which helps put the clowning around in great perspective.
As most clowns often have other talents such as juggling or doing magic tricks; Lucas has become a master of balloon animals - learning the process from on-line instructional videos. "I taught myself how to make over 35 different balloon animals in one night," he said. "The most popular are dogs and swords, but the coolest one is my road-runner."
Of course, even the happiest clown with the coolest balloon animals can't always inspire joy in their audience or bring a smile to a young child's face. Lucas remembers when, at one event with his fellow clowns, the children there were hesitant to play along.
"We did an event in Rhode Island at an orphanage, and the kids were scared at first, but we did the event in normal clothes and let the children watch us put the makeup on," he said. "They could see that we were normal people."
During "Bubba the Clown's" visit to the Army office, he entertained both the staff and a visiting Army recruiting family member, Alex Skelton, son of Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Skelton.
"It was good -- it was awesome," Alex said. "It was cool watching him put on his make-up. He was good at making all different kinds of balloon animals. I loved the monkey climbing up the tree one."
Next time you see somebody wearing a gaudy suit, a big red nose and some oversized shoes, just remember that underneath those layers of paint and behind those balloon animals -- clowns are real people, too -- and they may even be a Soldier!