Planet Alaska: A place for healing at Waypoint for Veterans

By Vivian Faith Prescott

For the Capital City Weekly

In the pouring rain Lucas Goddard led nine hikers along a trail so flooded it was like walking in a creek. The hike was cut short due to weather conditions. As the group descended, the sun broke through the clouds and the rain stopped. The soaked hikers passed a new group of hikers heading up, all dressed in T-shirts, and they commented on how great the weather was.

In Southeast Alaska we’re used to changing course depending on weather and trail conditions. Ours is fitting mindset and a perfect name, too, for Lucas Goddard’s nonprofit Waypoint for Veterans, which provides an environment for Veterans and First Responders to reconnect to nature and promote personal growth, healing, and relaxation.

As executive director, Goddard says, “We believe that providing this type of support for Veterans and Emergency Responders will lessen their likelihood of suicide, substance abuse and prevent broken families.”

Goddard was born and raised in Sitka, Alaska.

“While in high school I joined the Army in a delayed entry program. I passed a few tests so I could enter as a private first class. I chose infantry because I wanted to become a Ranger.”

Lucas Goddard, Director of Waypoint for Veterans, Kruzof Island. (Courtesy Photo / Mary Goddard)

Lucas Goddard, Director of Waypoint for Veterans, Kruzof Island. (Courtesy Photo / Mary Goddard)

“A waypoint is an intermediate point or place on a route or line of travel, a stopping point or point at which a course is changed.” — Lucas Goddard

Goddard, who is Tlingit and Aleut, is no stranger to the outdoors. His pathway to founding Waypoint was inevitable. He spent his youth hiking local trails around Baranof Island, exploring the surrounding islands, hunting, and fishing. Our Southeast Alaskan lifestyle shaped him. “The sense of community in Southeast Alaska is what really prepared me for starting Waypoint, though. In small Alaskan towns, people are always there for one another, and I want to be there for my fellow soldiers.”

After Goddard graduated from Sitka High School, he attended basic training and afterward, airborne school. He served with the 101st Airborne Division, 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment “Battle Force,”

“I was sent to Ranger School and earned my Ranger Tab, then attended Air Assault School to learn Helicopter operations. I went through the NCO Academy and became a Sergeant E-5.”

As a young, motivated Alaskan, Goddard set his own course for his Army career, in which he excelled. “I ended my four years with a tour in Iraq during 2003 at the initial invasion.”

Goddard received the Bronze Star with V for valor for his actions in combat. When asked about it, he stresses, “I was just doing my job.”

He told us what happened:

“I was on point for our company in Najaf, Iraq, on a mission to clear the runway. We had just come over a hill down into what appeared to be a landfill. We were ambushed by two 51 caliber Duska machineguns and multiple small arms. Running back up the hill would leave us in the open, so I took my squad of nine forward to cover. I set my three-man teams up with lines of fire and circled back to high ground where I launched an AT4 shoulder-fired rocket at the enemy location. At this point the rest of our platoon had set up on the hill above us. We called in Apache attack helicopters assigned to us and they rained missiles at multiple targets.”

Receiving the Bronze Star with V (Valor) from General Tommy Franks for spearheading the assault on the airport, Najaf, Iraq April 2003. Photo courtesy of Lucas Goddard, (Courtesy Photo / U.S. Army)

Receiving the Bronze Star with V (Valor) from General Tommy Franks for spearheading the assault on the airport, Najaf, Iraq April 2003. Photo courtesy of Lucas Goddard, (Courtesy Photo / U.S. Army)

Now Goddard’s “job” is being a helper, encourager, and leader.

“Our Alaska Native cultures knew that being in balance with nature was a spiritual experience. It’s that experience I want to share with Veterans and First Responders to help them through their struggles.”

“Our bodies and souls need quiet moments, fresh air, and the opportunity to just be.” — Lucas Goddard

Waypoint was created to help serve both veterans and first responders. Goddard points out that many Veterans get out of the military and become first responders. “Even first responders who aren’t veterans deal with traumas in their line of work and need the help we offer.”

The inspiration for Waypoint for Veterans emerged from a platoon get togethers that Goddard hosted in Sitka. Goddard and his friends spent time outdoors and those experiences helped. “I have experienced how nature helps with PTSD. When you’re out in the woods you’re living in the moment and not reflecting on the past or worrying about the future.”

For Goddard, nature is grounding. He teaches participants how to live in the moment. When participants attend Waypoint, they’re in the wilderness away from distractions. No digital devices (phones, etc.), no news, no T.V.s and no chores. (Waypoint does bring In-reach phones and radios in case of emergency).

People want to see what Southeast Alaska is like, and specifically what Sitka offers, but the other draw is that veterans and first responders are allowed the time and space for self-reflection and to gather with others who share similar life experiences.

“Everyone can use more nature in their life!” — Lucas Goddard

Waypoint is motivated by love for family and community. Kathi Goddard, Lucas Goddard’s mother, helps with outreach and logistics. Sister-in-law, Samantha Phillips, creates content for social media. And Mary, Goddard’s wife, manages the website, e-newsletters and assists with trip planning.

Sitka has a variety of trails that allow Waypoint to customize trips for small or large groups. They partner with Sitka Trail Works for short hikes led by a Trail Works board member and Goddard. The hikes last anywhere from an hour to three hours, depending on the trail. In the future, Waypoint plans to offer a variety of outdoor experiences to include Americans with Disabilities Act options for Veterans who utilize wheelchairs.

Currently Waypoints’ expedition size is limited to five Veterans/First Responders with one guide. Hosting small groups keeps it personal and allows participants to get to know one another. But the local, shorter hikes are not limited by size and can accommodate larger groups.

“It’s just as important for locals to get out and experience nature and adventure.” — Lucas Goddard

Goddard donates 100% of his time for Waypoint and doesn’t receive any salary or monetary gain. Along with his wife, Mary, he also co-hosts the Forest Fresh food blog designed to connect people to locally harvested foods. Goddard spends a lot of time hunting and fishing for his family and community and enjoys exploring with his son, Ryker. “I love to see the wonder he finds in our rainforest.”

Like most non-profits and businesses in Southeast, Waypoint for Veterans has been hit hard by the pandemic.

“We had to cancel our main expedition two years in a row. It’s heartbreaking. Our first big fundraiser was scheduled right when the pandemic hit the United States. We made a decision to cancel the expedition and it didn’t seem right to ask for people to donate during this struggling time.” The second year we had to cancel because my wife and I both contracted covid and were recovering.

Family hike with Waypoint on Thimbleberry Lake trail, Sitka, AK, Lucas and Ryker Goddard. (Courtesy Photo / Mary Goddard)

Family hike with Waypoint on Thimbleberry Lake trail, Sitka, AK, Lucas and Ryker Goddard. (Courtesy Photo / Mary Goddard)

There’s an urgent need for Waypoint’s services. The pandemic we’re living through has drastically increased First Responders’ workload and stresses. Despite the obstacles, Waypoint is hopeful. This summer they’re hosting their first family in attendance, and a family-owned vacation rental, Camp Starlight Alaska, is donating the housing. “When veterans and first responders bring their families, it provides the opportunity for the whole family to heal and have fun.”

“We invite you to bring friends and family and get outside!” — Lucas Goddard

Waypoint is not only for out-of-towners, but locals too. Goddard is surprised whenever he discovers a local veteran residing in Sitka who’s never taken their family out camping or fishing. Waypoint encourages families, both local and from out-of-town, to connect in an outdoor setting with the intention that they will get together on their own in a similar setting.

Goddard says, “I get the same benefits as the Waypoint participants we provide for. I need to be out in nature.” Whether it’s a waterway or a trail, a waypoint is a space where people can pause and consider options and refocus their lives: it’s a place for healing.

Veterans Crisis Line, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 Press #1, chat online, or send text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.

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