Operation Supply Drop: Sending video games to the battlefield

July 03, 2012 | 3:12 p.m.
osd mobiletrench Operation Supply Drop: Sending video games to the battlefield

U.S. troops in Afghanistan pose with the contents of their care package from Operation Supply Drop. (OperationSupplyDrop.org)

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Stephen Machuga, 36, received some “really, really bad” care packages when he was deployed in Iraq nine years ago, but one stands out in his memory: A box full of Harlequin Romance novels.

“We ended up using them for the confiscated weapons range,” Machuga recalled with a chuckle. “You know, best of intentions, but not thought-out. Most civilians don’t know what actual troops need over there, and they just box up toilet paper and whatever else they can find. Thanks, but if you package foot powder in with cookies, you’re going to have cookies that taste like food powder.”

Since leaving the Army, Machuga has made it his mission to make better care packages, founding Operation Supply Drop, a nonprofit that sends video games to troops deployed to Afghanistan.

“This is kind of a no-brainer,” said Machuga, who now works a government job in Washington, D.C. “Eighty percent of your unit is in the 17- to 25-year-old range. When we were off, all people would do was go back to their rooms and play video games.”

osd steve Operation Supply Drop: Sending video games to the battlefield

Retired U.S. Army Capt. Stephen Machuga, founder of Operation Supply Drop, readies a video-game care package. Machuga works out of his home in Bristow, Va. (OperationSupplyDrop.org)

Machuga, an avid gamer and founder of the video game blog Front Towards Gamer, said people don’t usually think of sending video games to soldiers, perhaps because civilians don’t realize many troops live in air-conditioned trailers and share common areas with televisions and Internet access.

“When you’re back in the States, you think it’s like a bad Vietnam War cliche where everyone’s in the jungle,” he said. “When I was deployed for the first time, I thought it was going to be like right out of ‘Platoon’ or ‘Apocalypse Now’ or something like that.”

When he launched Operation Supply Drop 18 months ago, Machuga said he had trouble finding units to accept the care packages.

“They couldn’t believe it,” he said. “They thought I was some sort of counter-intelligence threat, like, ‘Oh yeah, just click on this link, and we’ll send you all kinds of games!'”

But since then, word about Operation Supply Drop has spread, and Machuga has sent 24 care packages — around $54,000 worth of video game gear. The most popular request Machuga receives is for Xbox 360 consoles, “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield.”

“I’ve never gotten a Nintendo Wii request,” he said. “There’s not a lot of ‘Brave: The Video Game’ requests. It’s usually sports games, like ‘EA Madden,’ or one of the big shooter games. Everyone’s like, ‘Wait a minute, the guys over there who are kicking doors and pulling triggers, they want games about kicking doors and pulling triggers?'”

Machuga said he gets a lot of support from third-party game developers — including Rockstar Games, EA Sports, Activision, 2K Games, THQ and more — who donate video games. In his free time, Machuga solicits donations to cover the expense of consoles, controllers, shipping and insurance for each $1,700 package; a unit once lost its care package to an explosive device, he said.

osd spacecowboy Operation Supply Drop: Sending video games to the battlefield

U.S. troops in Afghanistan pose with the contents of their care package from Operation Supply Drop. (OperationSupplyDrop.org)

Machuga tries to send a package every three weeks.

“We have more requests than we have time to fill packages, which is good, because we’re not sitting around waiting on anybody,” he said. He gets help from his wife Margo, who is expanding the effort to better target female troops.

“We’ve been getting back pictures of troops standing around the package after it’s opened, and they’re all excited, and there’s usually a girl somewhere in the picture, a female soldier who looks like she could care less,” Machuga said. “It’s become something like, ‘Well honey, I only have 70 pounds to work with, and 90% of the people we’re targeting here are dudes.’ And she’s like, ‘I want to help the other 10%. There’s always one girl in the background.’ So we’re exploring that direction.”

It’s an all-consuming project for Machuga, but one he believes is worthwhile.

“I’m just one guy doing this out of his basement in his spare time, and it’s pretty time-intensive,” he said. “When I started doing the charity, I forgot that you have to ask people for things, and I’m not somebody to ask people for help. I have a military kind of pride. … But it has turned out to be really wonderful, and the letters that we get back from the guys that we send packages — they make my day.”

— Noelene Clark


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10 Responses to Operation Supply Drop: Sending video games to the battlefield

  1. AutoPoet says:

    Pointless thing to do, as for me. Soldiers need to fight, not to play games. Games are for fat kids that don't know real life.

    • Donna says:

      I don't know who this AutoPoet is….but I do know they are disgusting as a human and disgraceful as an American. If you aint over there….simply shut up!!! If you served as a soldier thank you for your service, but….shut up!! I have known Stephen for many years while he was in service and now that he is back home. He was an American hero then…..he is an American hero now. He never quits giving of himself to his country and those like you who live freely…..so just shut up!!

      • @ShanghaiSix says:

        Hey, cut AutoPoet some slack. I'm sure his collection of "Have You Seen Me" milk cartons he keeps stapled to the walls of his mom's basement is a way less "pointless thing" for someone to do for someone like him who "knows real life".

    • Ismael says:

      So easy to talk behind your keyboard. I bet your're playing "The Sims" right now, talking about 'real life.'

    • AutoPoetIsaSchmo says:

      Yeah. Wow…. Your a schmuck.
      You go fight a war and tell me you don't want a little r & r.


  2. Kimberly says:

    I fully support our troops, but the military is wasting their time and our money continuing these operations. We lost the war in Iraq and we are going to lose the war in Afghanistan. Time to bring our troops home so they can play games sitting on their own La-Z-Boys.

    • jaron says:

      Well.. we didn't exactly lose the war in Iraq… we did exactly what we set out to do… Afghanistan isn't a win/lose type war… If you ask me, it's not REALLY a war… being here in Afghanistan, yes, we are in danger, but war would suggest we are fighting a nation.. we are here protecting the nation… I bet taliban takes over within 2-3 years after we leave… the afghan army isn't ready for us to leave, neither are the afghan civilians (they simply say they are for the same reasons americans say we should leave, because we've been here a long time and it doesn't seem like we are making progress).

      • FloJo says:

        So Jaron, would you agree with the article that troops prefer receiving video games in their care packages? I met 3 Danish military that were on a short break from Afghanistan while on scuba diving holiday in the Mediterranean; I knew they were military but it never occured to me they could be coming straight from Afghanistan until one of them got his beach towel with "Afganistan" printed on it. I was really thrown off, as I had never met someone who went on such missions. We did exchange a few words (safety under water obliges, and divers like to exchange about their experience) but they pretty much kept to themselves other than that. It made such a big impression on me, and since I work for a big videogame developper, I get many new and upcoming games for free/discounted, perhaps i can try to send them a few…since i can't speak Danish it might be hard to find how i can do this tho, but i can certainly try if it is going to be useful to someone if not to them…

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