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 a USAF Veteran and Retiree. I work on this site in my spare time as life and work permit.
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 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 F-15 Eagle pictures, 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 a college student I was lucky enough to have an e-mail account and Internet access. At the time, there was this new coding language, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), which allowed you to build websites. I learned HTML and built the 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 pretty 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 a bit 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 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 lists, trades and sale items. I posted my trade lists which helped establish some regular trading partners. The site opened up a new world of collecting.
After graduating from college and entering the USAF, I continued to evolve the website. In 2001, I purchased a domain and the site officially became “USAFpatches.com”. In 2003, Discussion Forums were added to encourage interaction and dialogue between fellow patch collectors. In 2005, the current incarnation of the Gallery was opened which greatly enhanced organization and allowed for more sophisticated searches. The software also allowed for registered users to upload patches from their own collection. In 2009, the USAFpatches.com store opened where I began selling extra and duplicate patches. The proceeds from those sales helped pay the website bills. In 2012, after almost 10 years, I made the tough decision to shut down the Discussion Forums. While a valuable resource, I was experiencing the lack of civility that now permeates social media. Additionally, moderating the forum was taking too much time away from my family on top of long hours 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. In 2014, gallery uploads 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 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.