MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
Weathered and worn over a 23-year career, one piece of military equipment serves as a record of its owner’s journey through the Corps and around the world.
When Master Sgt. Michael B. Snell, Marine Attack Squadron 214 maintenance chief, arrived at his first duty station nearly 24 years ago from 2010, he began logging away his Marine Corps experiences. But Snell didn’t keep a conventional journal; he transcribed his portion of Marine Corps history onto the sea bag he first received in boot camp.
“When I got to my first duty station, everybody else had these jackets that had patches and locations written on them,” recalled the 47-year-old Fresno, Calif., native. “Being a married (private first class), I couldn’t afford one of those, but I could afford a Sharpie (marker). So I started writing places and units down on my bag.”
Now 23 years old, Snell’s sea bag has traveled the world and bares the markings to prove it. After seven deployments, the salty piece of gear has more than 30 locations from 20 countries around the world inscribed on its olive drab surface.
Many of the locations, such as Hong Kong, Hawaii and Honduras, are marked with Roman numerals, indicating he has visited these places multiple times.
Included among the list are Iceland, Japan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Australia, Korea and Cambodia.
“No place is written on this sea bag unless I have stepped foot there,” said Snell. “Flying over or landing or pulling into port somewhere doesn’t count unless my boot touches down on land.”
The sea bag also retains the airline tags from nearly every flight it has been aboard. While several tags have fallen off from wear and tear, it is still apparent from the multitude of cords without tags that the bag has flown extensively.
“Mount Suribachi was my favorite place, hands down,” said Snell. “Being there at Iwo Jima, seeing it, you really appreciate what happened there, what those Marines went through.”
However, travel is not the only piece of Snell’s Marine Corps history scrawled on this sea bag.
Snell started off as an infantryman, later becoming a marksmanship instructor, then moved into aviation and, at one point, served as a drill instructor.
Every unit he served with, as well as the military occupational specialties he held with those units, has its own place on the bag.
“The junior Marines always find it really interesting,” Snell remarked. “Most of them haven’t been anywhere except Afghanistan and Iraq. You’ll see them eyeballing it whenever it’s sitting out. Everybody wants to know what the old guy has done, but no one wants to ask. I guess it’s kind of like a bio on a bag.”
With a planned six more years of service, Snell said he expects to add another five or six locations and units to the bag in the coming years.
Snell hopes the newest of these additions includes different locales in western Europe, such as Spain and France.
While the bag marks milestones in Snell’s career, it also serves as a keepsake and future heirloom for his family.
“I’m glad I started doing this,” he said. “There are some places that I forgot I’ve been to, but I remember every detail of each place by just looking at this bag and reading the lists. It’s something for me to show my kids, too. They read the names of the places and ask me questions about them and about my time there, which they’d probably never learn about otherwise.
“When I do retire, I’m going to put all my uniforms in this bag,” said Snell, who plans to retire after 30 years of service. “Every uniform I’ve ever worn is going in there. If I wear these cammies at my retirement ceremony, they’re going to be the last uniform I put in there. After that, I’ll put the bag somewhere in our house for my friends and family to see. I want it to be something my kids can keep and show to their children and say ‘these are all the places your grandfather has been to.’”