Patching Up

by Senior Airman Kristan Campbell
18th Wing Public Affairs

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- With the approved Occupational Camouflage Pattern wear date of Oct. 1, right around the corner, many Airmen may still have questions about acceptable patch wear on their new uniforms. What patches are acceptable to don, how should they be worn, and when?

Fortunately, Air Force guidance has been released with all the answers. Here’s a break-down of everything Airmen need to know when considering proper patch wear.

“The organizational patch is a physical representation of not only the unit’s mission, but also who they are, where they’ve been, and what their history is,” said Mr. Evan Muxen, 18th Wing Historian. “It is the only physical representation people are typically allowed to wear on a daily basis.”

While headquarters patches and the U.S. flag will be worn on the right shoulder of OCPs, authorized unit patches and duty identifiers will be worn on the left. Patches are fixed to the uniform by velcro fabric on the sleeves and non-visible side, or back, of the patch.

Per official Air Force guidance, any unit patches to be worn with OCPs must first go through an approval process in which the organization consults with the Wing or equivalent to request information on an approved emblem, Muxen explained.

Once the unit is ready to start on their patch, the artist revitalizes the existing patch for the squadron following written guidance, or — in rarer instances — when a new squadron is stood up, a new patch will be designed from scratch.

“Since the OCP uniform has been approved, it now means every patch to be used with it has to be checked using a variety of factors before it can also be officially approved,” Muxen said. “It must be in digital format and must then be color converted into the approved colors — which there has only recently been published guidance on — in order to make sure patches are up to snuff.”

Patches are available with six different colors to choose from. Black and white, which most people have used in their patch designs, count towards two of those colors, Muxen explained.

After drafting a patch, the unit may then submit their emblems to the Wing historian who reviews the digital image for compliance with AFI 84-105, Organizational Lineage, Honors and History. The historian will inform the unit of any necessary changes based on the AFI.

The colors and elements making up the patch will reflect the unit’s specific history, lineage and honors as accurately as possible, Muxen added.

“What you don’t want is to create something that is overly cartoonish or has no real relevance to the mission or the history of the unit,” he explained. “It’s going to be a very long process to get all patches approved, an estimated four to five years, and it won’t be done quickly because of all the steps involved.”

Once the historian has approved the unit’s design, it’s routed up to several other agencies for review in a step-ladder fashion: first, the unit’s major command or equivalent; second, the Air Force Historical Research Association; third, the Institute of Heraldry; and lastly, the design is sent back to the AFHRA for finalization.

“The process may be long, but it is absolutely necessary,” Muxen said. “They account into cross-checking, double-checking and confirming history, confirming lineage, confirming honors, so that each unit is given a correct product … The bottom line is that this is going to require patience.”

While patches are unique to each unit, organizational patches are not required in order to don OCPs beginning Oct. 1. However, the U.S. Flag, nametape, service tape and rank are all required.

“Unit patches express squadron identity and heritage — something our Airmen are incredibly proud of and want to celebrate,” said Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein. “This celebrates joint warfighting excellence as OCPs will become the joint combat uniform for Airmen and Soldiers, while patches and nametapes will identify our respective services.”

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