If you didn't know, the month of May is regarded by some as Military Appreciation Month and has a number of special days set aside to recognize those who serve or have served...and the families who support them. Now I realize not everybody is a fan of the military and there are plenty with different political persuasions who think we waste far too much money on the defense of this great nation. I can respect that and am in no way trying to change your mind. But I did want to devote tonight's blog to this subject and mention a few of the good deeds the video game industry is participating in to support those wearing the uniform. If you're not interested, you're not interested.

Besides the handful of companies with special events planned with or for the military, perhaps the two biggest iniatives are Operation Supply Drop and 8-Bit Salute.

Operation Supply Drop (OSD) is a military gaming 501(c)(3) charity designed to build video game filled care packages for soldiers (America and Her Allies) both deployed forward to combat zones as well as those recovering in military hospitals.

OSD was created as a way for Captain Stephen Machuga to support the troops with his love of video gaming. Founded in 2010 after having worked with other charity efforts, Captain Machuga's first supply drop to the troops was to none other than his driver from Iraq, Geoff, who had re-enlisted and been sent to Afghanistan. Captain Machuga reached out to his contacts within the games industry to get some support, where he received his first real donation of games from Activision's social media manager Dan "One of Swords" Amrich. It was this bounty of Guitar Hero bundles and games that really got the charity off the ground, not only giving him a small inventory to work with, but the confidence to go to other developers and publishers and ask for games and gear on behalf of the military. Word quickly spread that some crazy Captain was sending thousands of dollars in video games to soldiers as long as you could prove you were in a combat zone, and things have been on an upward trajectory ever since having served over 2,500 individual troops and raising nearly $700,000 since inception. (SOURCE: Operation Supply Drop)

I can tell you first hand - there are many military personnel who are gamers. All branches. All ranks. Some of them walk among us at Game Informer Online. Some are serving and have served. They are no different than you and I. They don't want any special recognition or attention. They are just gamers. They just want to play and have fun.

I could tell you dozens of stories about the close knit relationship between the military and video games, but the one that has always stood out in my mind was kind of a wake-up call and highlights why programs like Operation Supply Drop go a long way in improving the morale of our troops.

I was sitting out in the blazing hot sun on the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport. I and a few others were waiting for a C-17 to arrive to take us back home. There was a platoon of soldiers hanging out waiting for transportation. They had just arrived in country. Two of these soldiers were talking and I wasn't paying much attention until I heard one of them mention Call of Duty. My ears perked up and I couldn't help but eavesdrop on their conversation. Apparently one of the soldiers had played the newest release and was telling the other about the experience. That's when the soldier who hadn't played the game said this was his third deployment in four years and he hadn't been able to keep up with the newest video game releases.

Third deployment in four years.

That might not mean much to the average person so I'll add a little bit of clarification. This was a young kid...probably early to mid-20's. My guess is he joined right out of high school when he was 18 or 19. Deployments vary in length and depend on the branch you serve in. I'm not making jokes about one branch or the other, but in my experience, the Air Force deployments were about 3 to 6 months in length, and the Army's deployments were about 9 to 12 months in length. Us Navy pukes were somewhere in the middle. So, in four years...this young kid spent most of his adult life rotating between Iraq, Afghanistan and back to Iraq - with a brief trip back to the United States in between deployments, a few months at a time.

Now, the thing was...he wasn't complaining. It wasn't a woe as me attitude. It was just a matter of fact. And he was truly excited hearing the details about the latest Call of Duty video game from his battle buddy. The sad thing was, this kind of story was not uncommon. I heard several similar testimonies just like this one.

I'll always remember that guy. I often wonder whatever happened to him and where he ended up...and whether he is excited about the new Call of Duty or if he's stuck in a FOB somewhere in the middle of nowhere on his eight or ninth deployment.

A lot of the games donated by organizations like Operation Supply Drop end up in the hands of military servicemen and women like this guy. And they appreciate it...more than most of us will ever know.

Anyway...in conjunction with Operation Supply Drop, there is an initiative much like the Child's Play charity drive. This one is called 8-Bit Salute.

Since 2010, thousands of gamers have joined forces to take part in 8-Bit Salute to show their support for the fighting men and women of the United States military and her allies by doing what they love: playing video games. For 24 straight hours, the community of supporters around Operation Supply Drop to raise both funds and awareness for the military gaming charity so we can continue our mission of getting video games to the troops deployed to combat zones through our "supply drops" and more events at military hospitals and bases.

To join us, you need only sign up to create your own team, then go out and gather the support of your friends and family through tax-deductible donations. 8-Bit Salute is all day on Saturday, May 17 through Sunday, May 18th, but we understand if life gets in the way and you can't be a part that day. Have no fear: not only will there be an organized make-up date the next weekend on Saturday, May 24th, but in all actuality, you can really do the event any time you'd like (we'll keep that classified)! Then it's just a matter of grabbing a seat in your favorite chair, getting your favorite pizza place on speed dial, and finally grinding through that backlog of games that you've been promising to play through over the last year for as long as you can keep your eyes open!

If you're interested in checking it out and seeing who some of the top team contributors are, you can find the details here:

3rd Annual 8-Bit Salute

I know there are a couple of industry folks getting behind this...and will be streaming some of the marathon gaming sessions. I hope to be a part of one myself but we'll see how that goes.

In closing, I don't want to name names and put them on the spot...but I do know several Game Informer Online members who have served their country proudly...and I want to thank you all for your service. I'm honored to call you friends and salute your sacrifices.