FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Maj. Douglas Westbrook, a nurse anesthetist at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, finishes his shift in the operating room. It’s been a busy day and a reset is desperately needed. Taking the elevator ride to the lobby is the final act in a scene he’s been playing since 2006, when he started performing for patients in El Paso, Texas. He surveys the room, finds the best spot to get the acoustics just right, and picks out a song in his head — something he hopes the audience needs to hear. After a readjust of his mask, he’s ready to play.
Westbrook said growing up in his hometown of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona, his mom never had to wonder where he was as a kid because he was always singing.
At age 12, he taught himself to play his mother’s guitar.
“My mom had a guitar and told me if I learned to play it, I could have it,” he said.
He sings now for a different audience: the patients and visitors of GLWACH.
He said he sings for people who need calm while in a stressful place in their lives.
“A hospital exists to take care of physical needs (by and large); mental and emotional needs cannot be forgotten,” he said. “A hospital environment is a stressful place because we can see people at their worst and when they are often worried about themselves or loved ones.”
Westbrook sings on his breaks, when and where he can.
“I try to play most days that we are not overly busy in the operating room,” he said. “I play for the recovery area sometimes.”
Sitting front row at one of his performances is Kye Rocker, a familiar face to GLWACH employees. As a contractor charged with operating the lobby kiosk where many stop in for coffee and sandwiches, she also witnesses hundreds of customers entering GLWACH daily for care.
She said she never forgets a name or face, or the sound of Westbrook’s guitar playing.
“It’s uplifting when I hear him play,” she said, adding she cheered and clapped for him the first time she heard him perform.
Westbrook has more than 18 years of service — he commissioned as a staff sergeant in 2009 — and plans to settle down permanently in this area with his family who love the military community here. All of the artists Westbrook covers have songs he feels speak to the hearts of service members.
“Most of us (Soldiers) have lost someone, often in combat-related incidents,” he said. “I love to be able to play requests. I’m not always able but it is a fun experience for me when I can play something that has specific meaning and brings a specific memory or joy to someone in particular.”
Westbrook said he loves playing Garth Brooks’ songs, but newer songs enter his repertoire as well.
“‘Memories’ by Maroon 5 is one of my current favorites and speaks to the heart,” he said.
Certain aspects of songs inspire his performances, he said.
“I enjoy many types of music but especially love the story telling and powerful emotion that can be felt when music is played,” he said. “I think we need room in our lives for things a little out of the ordinary. I’m glad to be able to provide that. I love to make people smile and laugh and feel that boosts my health as well as theirs.”
Rocker said she feels Westbrook’s hobby helps the patients of GLWACH.
“He tries to make it special for them in times like these” she said. “Music makes everybody happy.”