Founded in 1996, USAFpatches.com is dedicated to preserving the history of the US Air Force through its patches. Patches are leather, cloth and PVC representations of emblems that are worn on uniforms by military personnel or display elsewhere, such as helmet bags, engine covers and shadow boxes, to foster unit cohesion and morale.
United States military aviation units have used patches since World War I. During that period, the Army Air Service, forerunner of today’s US Air Force, wore patches that denoted their unit designations on their uniforms. After World War I and into the Korean War, unit patches were worn on leather flight jackets and cloth shoulder patches were worn on the left sleeve of the uniforms. During the 1950s, patches were worn on flight suits and utility uniforms; a tradition that continues to this day.
USAF patches are broken into two large general categories: official organizational patches and morale patches.
Official unit patches are based on an organization’s official emblem rendered by the US Army’s Institute of Heraldry and on file with the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA). AFHRA has over 14,000 emblems registered in its archive. These emblems abide by strict regulations that govern their design. They are highly symbolic, with each element and each color having a specific meaning. While the majority of designs are “professional”, some feature popular cartoon characters such as Donald Duck and Wil E. Coyote. Most are created by members assigned to the organization, but others were designed by professional artists and animators to include some from Walt Disney Productions and Warner Brothers Studios. Some of these emblems date back to World War I and have remain unchanged. Official organization patches are worn proudly on the Air Force utility and flight dress uniforms and when combined with other insignia, provide a snapshot into an Airman’s role in the US Air Force. These patches serve to connect and unify past and present members of these organizations and serve as a visual representation of an organization’s proud heritage.
Morale patches encompass everything other than official organizational patches. As such, the number of morale patches far exceeds the number of official unit patches. Some morale patches are officially sanctioned, many are not. They are made for multiple reasons. To represent a training class. To commemorate significant events. To show a qualification. To show the system an Airman operates. To defy the “system” and express discontent. The list goes on and on. Some are made in quantity and readily available, while in other cases the patch is one of a kind. Some are professional made, while others are crudely made on a sewing machine. Morale patches can be humorous. Sometimes overtly, but in some cases only funny if you know the full story. The humor is sometimes sophisticated, often juvenile, sometimes dirty and often crass. The designs often reflect pop culture, spoofing a name brand, a popular song or a hit movie. On occasion, Airmen hide things in the design. Morale patches are a unique a snapshot and record of life in the US Air Force at a specific time, place and inside specific organizations. They truly represent the joy and pain that those who have served know very well.
Together, all of these patches, whether official or unofficial, are unique pieces of history that represent the people, places, organizations and equipment that are the United States Air Force.