The history of this site: it all started with some patches…
USAFpatches.com is a one-person operation run by a USAF patch collector and retired USAF Airman in my spare time as life and work permits.
Back in the 1980s, before the Internet was a thing, it was much harder to learn about the things that interest you. The public library was a mainstay of my youth and checking out books about all things airplane was how I learned about military aviation. In junior high school one of my classmates informed me that you could write to military bases around the world and they would send you things, such as books, airplane photos, fact sheets and stickers for free. As a kid, the thought of getting free stuff really appealed to me! I asked my parents for some envelopes and stamps, wrote out letters in my finest penmanship, addressed the envelopes and affixed a stamp, put them in our mailbox and then waited. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks, I received manila envelopes full of stuff. Jackpot! The 36th Tactical Fighter Wing at Bitburg Air Base, (then West) Germany was one of the places I wrote back then. The base public affairs office responded with pictures of F-15 Eagles, all sorts of fact sheets and a handful of subdued patches. I was hooked! Many years later, those patches were joined by 20,000+ others in what has become my lifelong hobby — collecting US Air Force patches.
Back in 1995 the Internet was still in its infancy. Prior to this time, the “Internet” was the mainly used by the government, research or educational institutions. As an engineering student in college I was lucky enough to have an e-mail account and access to the “Internet”. At the time, there was this new code, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which allowed you to build websites. I learned HTML and built my first website for my Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) Detachment. By today’s standards it looks pretty bad, but back then it was awesome! My second project was a little more ambitious; I wanted to combine my patch collecting hobby with my newfound coding skills. At the time getting a personal website started was harder than it is now, but for a small investment of $9.95 a month I managed to get a little space (a Megabyte!) and a web address for my endeavor.
In March 1996, the “Air Force Patch Collectors’ Homepage” went online. Google did not exist at the time, but a website called “Yahoo!” did. So, I registered my website there which soon led to a small, but steady stream of traffic. The website had a gallery which featured patches from my personal collection. A Bulletin Board” feature was added early on to allow visitors to post their wanted, trade and/or sale items. I posted my trade lists on the site which helped establish some regular trading partners. The site opened up a new aspect of collecting.
After graduating from college and entering the USAF, I continued to work on the website. In 2001, the transitioned the site to the usafpatches.com domain and officially became “USAFpatches.com”. In 2003, the Discussion Forums were added to the website to encourage interaction and dialogue between fellow patch collectors. In 2005, a new gallery was opened using Coppermine software which greatly enhanced organization and allowed for more sophisticated searches. The new software also allowed for registered users of the site to upload patches from their own collection. In 2009, the USAFpatches.com store opened where I began selling my extra and duplicate patches. The proceeds from those sales helped pay the bills for keeping the website going. In 2012, after almost 10 years, I made the tough decision to shut down the Discussion Forums. While a valuable resource, the forums were experiencing the lack of civility that now permeates social media and it was taking too much family time away from me after the long hours being demanded by my bosses at work. Up to this point I was still hand-coding portions of the website, so I made the switch to WordPress which made it easier to maintain the website. In 2014, gallery uploads from registered users were restricted because of persistent hacking attempts which resulted in my web host threatening to shut down the site. For the last several years, the website has taken a back seat to my family. After 20 years of service in the Air Force, numerous moves and over four years away between temporary duty and deployments, I owed them some time back. This site remains a hobby to me and I continue to update the site when I have time and the desire to do so.