On Independence Day, Americans remember United States history and its journey to gain independence from the British. This was not the only war for freedom, as the U.S. fought in WWI, and WWII, and other world-changing wars that shaped the outlook of the world people live in today. 

One battle that America has failed to join is the fight against PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) that many veterans experience. Civilians and veterans can develop PTSD by being involved in stressful situations or witnessing traumatic events such as war, abuse, torture, death, gunshots or brutality.

 One of the side effects of having PTSD is suicide which is a  problem in the U.S. But one organization standing on the front lines and helping people, especially soldiers, combat their battle with PTSD is Stackup.

Stackup is an organization of veterans and gamers, along with husbands and wives of veterans and many others who help vets through gaming.

Founder and Executive Director Stephen Machuga, a vet himself, explains how gaming helped him deal with his PTSD and readjusting to civilian life after his deployment and how Stackup aims to help others. 

 Machuga is a former army captain infantry/military intelligence officer and airborne ranger who spent the majority of his service at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division. In 2003, he deployed to Iraq with the 2nd Infantry Division and whittled through his ‘seemingly endless’ 13-month deployment with the help of video games. 

Machuga left the service in 2006, then spent 10 years in Washington D.C. as a government counter-terrorism analyst.  

“I came home and was struggling to reintegrate into society. My first six months overseas, we were constantly outside the wire with 3rd Stryker platoon shipped to all the hot spots.” Machuga said as he explained his life as a rookie in the Army. “It was a rough transition when I came home because I went from daily patrols, to going to the mall for a cheeseburger, and it took a while for my mindset to adjust.” 

When he returned home, Machuga purchased the game “World of Warcraft.”

“This game helps me get my mind off all my problems and helps me deal with my mental issues. I found a community through gaming, and it felt good finding a community outside of the military, and it helps me feel like part of a team again.”

Seeing how gaming helped him through his problems, Machuga wanted to help his fellow brother-in-arms. 

“We would get boxes of random stuff from caring civilians who weren’t really in touch with what military people needed,” he said. “We would get wet wipes, baby powder, magazines, and other miscellaneous stuff that we didn’t need. As a veteran, I wanted to support the troops with stuff I know they would enjoy.” 

This led to the creation of the non-profit organization Stackup, which brings veterans and civilian supporters together through a shared love of video gaming using its primary programs: The Stacks, Supply Crates, Air Assaults, and the Stack Up Overwatch Program (StOP).

“Stack Up has four pillar programs that support armed forces through the use of video games. Supply Crates is the first program that started it all, in which we box up game and gear and send it to bases to be dispersed between the military hospitals and just for soldiers that are struggling on base and back at home. We have our Air Assault program, in which we fly disabled older and deserving veterans to gaming events around the country like E3, Comic-Con, and Esports, to name a few.” Machuga said.  “We have our Stacks program, which includes 30 gaming teams nationwide that go out and do volunteer work in the community and aim to get vets out of the house and interact with the community. Then we have our 24/7 suicide prevention team that is called Overwatch. This program is full of trained volunteers who are ready 24/7 to help out if people need somebody to talk to, and it is free of charge.” 

Machuga has also emphasized mental health and suicide prevention help for veterans as the suicide rate in America is at an all-time high, as he feels vets have nobody to talk to, and the only thing the army recommends is drugs to cope with any issues. 

The Stack-up organization has a fundraiser program called Wall of Heroes which they host twice a year, one in May and another in November, honoring war heroes and raising money to keep Stackup running. 

Machuga appreciates the support people show vets but asks for it to be channeled differently. 

“A lot of people today need support, so I can’t ask for too much, but if you are going to support the military and vets, then do it with your actions, not words,” he said. “Instead of token appreciation buying the vet some coffee to show appreciation, when sending stuff out send stuff that can be useful to the troops.” 

Readers can support veterans and the military by donating your money, old games, and time by volunteering for Stackup and their events. Visit their site at https://tinyurl.com/smj94pew to learn more about Stackup and how to get involved.  

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