An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

HomeNewsroomNewsArticle Display

Article - Article View

Commander ‘patches’ together 15,000 piece career

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Lt. Col. Rich Operhall shows off a portion of his collection of more than 15,000 patches. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Lt. Col. Rich Operhall shows off a portion of his collection of more than 15,000 patches. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A portion of Lt. Col. Rich Operhall’s collection of more than 15,000 patches are on display in his office here. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A portion of Lt. Col. Rich Operhall’s collection of more than 15,000 patches are on display in his office here. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A portion of Lt. Col. Rich Operhall’s collection of more than 15,000 patches are on display in his office here. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – A portion of Lt. Col. Rich Operhall’s collection of more than 15,000 patches are on display in his office here. Operhall began collecting patches in junior high and says his collection fuels his passion of Air Force history and heritage. Operhall said this passion is not as much about the patches as it is the stories and the people who make the Air Force work day-to-day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. J. Aaron Breeden)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- For nearly three decades, Lt. Col. Rich Operhall, 76th Space Control Squadron commander, has fueled his love of Air Force history and heritage by collecting patches.

A lot of them. More than 15,000 at last count.

The son of a three-war Air Force veteran, Operhall said his love of the Air Force began in second grade. He recalled childhood memories of drawing planes and being fascinated by the flying world.

"In junior high school I had a friend ... and he discovered that by writing to Air Force bases, to public affairs offices and other places, they would send him stuff," said Operhall. "He showed me how to do it and I started writing to different public affairs offices for the various wings and bases and they started sending me stuff."

"I'd get fact sheets and pictures and base guides and ... occasionally they'd send stickers and things from the various units," said Operhall. "And for a small kid, this treasure trove of free stuff was great!"

Operhall said it was a response he received from the now defunct Bitburg Air Base in Germany that began his patch collection.

"The Bitburg public affairs office sent me a stack of patches," said Operhall. "I was like, 'Oh, this is cool.' So, as part of my request when I would write to the different bases, I started asking for patches."

While Operhall's initial requests were sometimes denied, he still persisted.

"If I would get turned down, I would subsequently write to the individual units and try to get patches from them," Operhall said. "And low and behold, after writing to them, the next thing you know I've got 100 patches and then 200 patches and it started growing and growing from there."

His collection continued into his teenage years, as well as his interest in the Air Force.

"I joined the Civil Air Patrol when I was 13 and that actually fueled (my collection) even more because we'd go visit Air Force bases and literally, I would go around bumming patches from people at the different units, including some of the air crew," said Operhall.

"The nice thing is when you're a young kid, people tend to give you stuff," he added.

Over the years, Operhall's collection grew and grew and so did the interesting responses. Some of the more memorable letters he received were from James Doolittle III and also a former Thunderbird who returned a letter on Thunderbird stationary.

For Operhall, however, this passion is more than simply collecting patches. It is about the stories behind the patches and the people who make those stories come to life.

"The patches fuel for me a passion for Air Force history connected to our heritage, and although it's a short heritage, it's a pretty distinguished heritage," he said.

"The patches tie us back to our history, to the people who came before us, to all of the giants and to all of the little people ... who make the Air Force work day-to-day," said Operhall. "And that's really what all of this stuff represents. It's about Airmen, it's about people."

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui