Soldier juggles service, entertainment duties

U.S. Army Capt. John Morris, right, plays along with a joke by Maj. Bruce Townley, a native of Chamois, at Forward Operating Base Lightning in Afghanistan on March 31. Townley performed an Easter show for the soldiers.

U.S. Army Capt. John Morris, right, plays along with a joke by Maj. Bruce Townley, a native of Chamois, at Forward Operating Base Lightning in Afghanistan on March 31. Townley performed an Easter show for the soldiers. Courtesy/U.S. Army

Packing for deployment to Afghanistan, Maj. Bruce Townley didn’t have room for his full clown costume and props.

But entertaining comes naturally to the Chamois, Mo., native, and he did take along a few items for juggling and magic tricks.

His 25 years of performing experience — including graduation from the eight-week Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College — have come in handy at long, serious staff meetings.

With a fellow juggler at his current station with the 4th Brigade 1st Armored Division, Townley, 44, put on a full show for soldiers at Forward Operating Base Lightning.

He hopes to do shows for the interpreters and communications section of the Afghan Army, with whom he has been working the last eight months.

Townley is the adviser to the Afghan National Army 203rd Corps’ Command, Control, Communications, and Computers/Cypher office as part of the U.S. Army’s advising the Afghan National Security Forces in order to ensure a smooth transition as International Security Assistance Forces transfer security and governance to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

After graduating from Osage County R-1 High School in Chamois, Townley enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

He wanted to get involved in command activities when he boarded his first ship, the battleship USS New Jersey. He found an opportunity when the chaplain promoted the clown troupe.

His first show, they dressed him up in the clown get-up, and he made the front page of the city they were in, he said.

Within a year, he was the troupe’s director. And he soon began teaching himself magic and juggling.

“I wanted to do more than hand out balloons,” Townley said. “I started fooling friends, and I was hooked on it.”

The ship’s troupe performed around the world at orphanages and hospitals.

The week Townley went from active duty to naval reserve, he also auditioned for the premiere clown college.

While he waited, he returned to Mid-Missouri, performing locally and attending Lincoln University. Then he got the acceptance call and was one of only 32 in the clown college’s class of 1991.

“Business grew pretty quick when I advertised (from where) I graduated,” Townley said.

He’s done shows in more than 20 countries since 1987.

His mother, Norma Jean Townley, now lives in Jefferson City, and his wife, Elisabeth, and their six children live in El Paso, Texas.

When he completed his public administration degree from Lincoln, Townley also completed the U.S. Army Reserved Officer Training.

He has been active-duty Army since January 1996.

“Now I use it for fun; it’s a good ice breaker,” Townley said.

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