Stephen Machuga, out of uniform, in his Pine home packing up a supply crate to send overseas.
Sgt. Eddie Ward, who was discharged after losing his leg in Afghanistan, is showing some of the stuff he got from Stack-Up.org.
Four men and one woman in fatigues displaying games/devices from a Stack-Up care package.
Stephen Machuga, in uniform and hat, in 2003 at Fort Lewis, Wash., before he was deployed to Iraq.
By Max Parker
Video games may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a way to support U.S. troops. Soldiers overseas are busy defending the country, so how would they have any time to devote to a virtual soldier simulator?
However, Army veteran Stephen Machuga, an Erie native and Pine resident, says video games can be a huge help to veterans. That’s why he founded the charity Stack-Up.org.
Capt. Machuga served for eight years beginning in 1998. He was deployed to Iraq in 2003. When he returned home, he struggled with readjusting to civilian life and found his love for video games to be a safe haven.
Even dealing with trash day on Tuesdays was a big hurdle to overcome.
“Because insurgents would hide explosives in piles of trash on the side of the road, my brain was having trouble on trash day,” Capt. Machuga said about being back in the states. “My brain would scan for wires and I’d scan rooftops for people watching. I’d find excuses not to go out on Tuesdays.”
He returned home three weeks before the original “World of Warcraft” massive multiplayer online game was released. That game helped him get his mind off of his time in Iraq and aided in his transition to life stateside.
It was at that time that Capt. Machuga recognized that other veterans could be helped through video games.
Soldiers deployed often have a lot of free time between assignments. Stack-Up is designed to help them deal with the tedium as well as daily struggles of being away from home and loved ones.
“Keeping [soldiers] busy and engaged is important. Life is moving on back home without them,” Capt. Machuga said. “Giving [soldiers] an opportunity to set up a ‘Halo’ tournament or ‘Call of Duty’ tournaments, or something to get them excited about being in a terrible place in the world and not thinking about how many days they have left is important. There’s not a lot of that there.
“The government pays for beans and bullets, but they don’t pay for a lot of leisure activities.”
With that in mind, he founded Operation Supply Drop in 2009, another nonprofit that focused on sending video game care packages to veterans. Capt. Machuga left the company after differences arose with the direction of the charity.
He founded Stack-Up.org in November 2015. In that short time, the charity has sent roughly $25,000 worth of game-related supplies to troops. The charity looks for the newest games on the market that can be played offline. Troops request today’s biggest games for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 like “Fallout 4” and the latest in the “Call of Duty” series.
Stack-Up.org’s approach to charity is three-fold. It sends “supply crates” or care packages full of video games and game-related items to troops in combat zones, stateside military bases or those recovering in military hospitals. About half is donated by video game publishers and the other half by individuals.
It also organizes trips for veterans called Air Assaults. This program picks deserving veterans and pays for them to attend video game industry-related events like the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) or the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.
Stack-Up already has recruited more than 100 volunteers across the country. They’re organized in Stack teams and consist of veterans and civilians. The idea is to get gamers in social settings and to get involved in Stack-Up’s mission.
Last week, the charity teamed up with popular Twitch streamers during the shooter “Destiny’s” Crimson Days event. That publicity alone drew donations of $12,000 over the weekend.
Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey joined Stack-Up’s advisory board in January, which has also helped to spread word of the organization’s goals.
Looking to the future, Capt. Machuga says recent help from big industry names is huge in Stack-Up’s main goal.
“Having the support of Palmer, Ubisoft, Twitch and Twitch partners really helps us get back to helping veterans. It won’t be about putting an organization together for much longer because the foundation will have been laid. We’ll have our volunteer staff figured out.
“Then it will just be about helping out troops.”
Learn more at www.stack-up.org.
Max Parker writes as The Game Guy at communityvoices.post-gazette.com. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.
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