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When Marine Sergeant William Bee returned home from Afghanistan a hero, he was faced with a long road to recovery and the daunting prospect of having to re-adapt to everyday life.
His close call with a bullet from a Taliban sniper in 2008 made him the centerpiece of one of the most iconic series of images from the War on Terror, and his story has since sparked interest from Hollywood.
But an IED blast in Helmand Province in 2010 left the father-of-one with three traumatic brain injuries and psychological trauma. Doctors diagnosed him with severe PTSD almost immediately after he touched down on U.S. soil in 2010.
He began experiencing constant flashbacks from his tours in the Middle East that left him needing a cocktail of powerful medications that he has since found out could have killed him.
Many former servicemen and women with a similarly bleak outlook would want to get as far away as possible from the sound of gunfire, explosions and the sight of terrorists. But not Sergeant Bee.
He has instead found comfort in replaying many of the shocking experiences he went through fighting the Taliban by playing games online and is now using the skills he learned as a grunt to be part of a video game.
Shooting and blowing up virtual terrorists from the comfort of his couch in Jacksonville, North Carolina is therapeutic for Sergeant Bee, and has become a self-prescribed treatment that
At times, it has proved to be more effective than the mountain of powerful prescription pills the Veterans Administration (VA) gives him.
He recently donned a motion-capture bodysuit and replicated moves he used as a Marine in the Middle East for the first-person, online shooter game SQUAD.
Wearing a tight, black onesie, covered in tiny white spheres, Sergeant Bee kicked down doors with an assault rifle in his hand, rolled over into firing positions and ran in a crouch inside the Animatrik Studios in Vancouver, where animations for the recent Star Wars films and the two Deadpool movies have been created.
He was invited to take part by Stack Up, a charity that helps injured vets reconnect with other troops and cope with their injuries through playing video games.
The game depicts realistic scenarios from all of the armed services – the Army, Navy and Air Force – in combat situations inspired by those who lived through it.
In SQUAD, up to 50 players at a time, in different parts of the world, work as a team and communicate with each other to complete various missions that have been influenced by combat zones.
The makers of the game got involved with Stack-Up and invited the troops north of the border to take part when they heard about the work they were doing for vets.
Initially, the charity organized gaming tournaments, but now these service men and women are becoming their own characters in the virtual world.
His mimicked stunts will now be turned into animations and will be included in the next update of the game.
Sergeant Bee was joined by Australian Defense Force Medic, Daniel (Harry) Holcroft and a former Marine Explosive Ordnance Disposal Tech, Dave Crouse, who lost half his arm and his eye while decommissioning a 40mm grenade in Malaysia.
Sergeant Bee told DailyMail.com: ‘Video games have always been my hobby, ever since I got my first Atari 2600 back in ’88. I got hooked. I had other hobbies, played sports, all of that, but video games were always something I made time for as well.
‘When we deployed to Garmsir and Marjah, and we packed our D+3 bags, I made sure I had a cheap laptop with an emulator in it just so the other squad leaders and I could sit there and play old Nintendo and Sega games after a patrol to unwind. (D+ bags were packed and staged ahead of time, to be provided to us after the assault on whatever area had been completed and final positions had been established.)
‘Gaming has actually become part of my nightly routine. Bobbie and Ethan both go to bed relatively early. My nighttime meds usually don’t kick in until about 11, however, so I get a little bit of time I can sit down, relax, and play a game.
‘Squad, the video game I provided motion-capture for, is a video game that is known as a “Tactical Shooter”.
‘It is far more realistic than a game like Call of Duty or Battlefield, and absolutely requires teamwork and communication.’
The on-screen battles are scarily similar to the time Sergeant Bee was almost hit by sniper fire in Garmsir in 2008, while he wasn’t wearing a helmet.
He survived the shot, but it changed his life dramatically in the aftermath.
Reuters photographer Goran Tomasevic captured the moment a sandbank blew up in front of Sergeant Bee when the bullet hit just a few inches away from his head in 2008.
The set of photos he took are still used to illustrate what has become to be known as the Forever War.
They are an example of the sacrifice thousands of Americans, British and other Western troops have made and are still making in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Some of those troops who fought the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are now, like Sergeant Bee, turning to games as a form of catharsis.
Many would think that the reminders of modern warfare would haunt a Marine dealing with terrible brain injuries and psychological trauma.
But he insists that gaming it is what helps him sleep at night.
They provide an escape from thoughts of suicide, violent and the opioids prescribed to him by government doctors that could prove deadly if taken all together.
For many years after he left the Marines, Sergeant Bee stayed under the radar and didn’t speak out about his service – even though the photos of him being shot at by a sniper were shared around the world.
Now, his story is being turned into a book and is being made into a film with the help of producer Niall Perett.
In his first interview with DailyMail.com in 2015, he revealed he has struggled to get the care he needs from the VA.
He openly admits he is an angry man, has bizarre outbursts that terrifies his family and has even contemplated suicide,
Now, he works as a career advisor for servicemen who have been through the same pain and suffering he has, all in the name of serving their country.
His story is now being made into a book, and a film producer has signed on the rights to turn it into a film.
With stagnant support from the VA, which he describes as a bureaucratic mess with too many people taking home enormous government salaries, he has turned to alternative means to combat the side effects from war.
He has found a safe space in gaming, and it is also a way he can bond with his son, Ethan, who was born during one of his tours.
His wife Bobbie was pregnant when he was almost hit by sniper fire.
‘What sold me on the game was the attention to detail the developers put into it. The Afghan villages portrayed in the game had been rendered by someone who has obviously seen Afghan mud homes and complexes, the quality of the sound is amazing.
‘The whiz, hiss, and crack of the rounds around you are perfectly represented in this game. THAT is what made me immediately love it, because it made my heart start racing the second I started playing it.
‘The reason I jumped on the chance to do motion capture for Squad with Offworld Industries was the obvious love the developers have for the game, and the enjoyment I was getting out of it as well.
‘I saw an opportunity on the Squad website asking for Veterans who would like to do a motion capture session, and I jumped all over it. Who wouldn’t want to be immortalized in a video game?
‘I am pretty sure there is a deep-seated psychological reason I play so many military tactical shooters like Squad, Arma III, and other games.
‘And yes, there is a catharsis there, when I’m playing as part of a squad, and we are communicating and having a blast while killing digital insurgents while simultaneously drinking a beer, it’s fun!
‘Because at the end, I turn off the PC go upstairs, and go to bed next to my wife.’
Half of veterans use video games to help them cope with stress when they return from war.
Captain Stephen Machuga, a retired Army Captain who founded Stack Up, said he knew people wanted to help veterans, but many don’t know how.
Soldiers receive packages from back home and around the world throughout their tours to keep them motivated.
During a tour in Iraq, Captain Machuga’s squad received a crate of donated romance novels. None of the soldiers wanted to read them, so they instead used them for target practice.
Most of the troops would carry GameBoys or any consoles they could fit in their pocket, so Capt Machuga decided gaming was the way to go. It helped him acclimatize to normal life when he returned home from his 13-month deployment, so he knew it would help other servicemen and women in a similar situation.
‘My particular problem was trash pickup day,’ he said. ‘In Iraq, insurgents hid explosive devices in piles of trash littering the sides of every road in the country, so every time we would drive by one, you would just wait for it to blow up in your face.
‘Fast forward to coming back home, and imagine driving to the mall on trash day, where there were piles of trash all over the place around my house. Sure I was safely back home, but the subconscious search for wires coming out of garbage piles made it extremely difficult to leave my house.
‘Fortunately for me, a little game called World of Warcraft came out a few weeks after I got home from Iraq. I remember standing at the front door to a Walmart near Fort Lewis at 6 AM, waiting for the doors to open so I could get my hands on a copy.
‘I played that game like some people breathe in oxygen, and for the next month or so, it completely dominated my waking hours. When I was forced to leave my house, I would be in such a hurry to get back to the game, that over time, gaming took my mind off the anxiety that living in a combat zone for a year built up.
‘It was that support I wanted to share with my brothers and sisters in arms. So in 2010, when my driver from Iraq re-enlisted and was immediately shipped to Afghanistan, he reached out to me for help.
‘He knew I had fostered some contacts in the games industry, and asked if I could reach out to some of them to see if they could get his unit some games and a video game console.
‘The response from the games industry was surprising, and I received an amazing bounty of donated games and gear. Upon receiving it in Afghanistan, the word got out that this crazy ex-Army captain was sending out thousands of dollars worth of games and gear to units that sent him an email.’