A retired gunny has gone on record as being the most-Marine-Corps-Institute-educated devil dog of all time.
By his account, retired Gunnery Sgt. Andrew Svaby completed a total 439 courses at MCI, 317 before his 1997 retirement from the Corps, giving him bragging rights for the record of most courses completed by any Marine — ever. Svaby was honored at the MCI deactivation ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington Oct. 1 with a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his volunteer efforts to mentor young Marines and his prolific completion of MCI courses.
“You need book Marines as well as field Marines,” Svaby told Marine Corps Times. “I wanted to lead by example: If I could do it, so can you.”
Of the 439 MCI courses Svaby completed, his favorites were Warfighting Skills, Fundamentals of Leadership, and Command and Staff — an upper-level course for officers.
Even though he became an MCI expert of sorts, not all of the courses were a cake walk. Svaby failed an artillery military occupational specialty course twice. Seeing it as a personal challenge, he took it a third time and finally passed.
After retiring, Svaby sought to pass on his life-long passion for learning to young Marines.
He said for the past 18 years, he’s put about 50,000 miles a year driving from his hometown of Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Quantico, Virginia, to volunteer his time mentoring and instructing them through MCI courses, as well as coordinating with MCI staff as their advocate.
MCI’s deactivation, however, will mark a new chapter in Svaby’s life.
“It’s bittersweet: I’ve met some good people along the way, but I understand the need to move forward,” he said. “It’s an Internet world, and with all the talk about counting beans, [MCI’s] gone the way of the typewriter and the horse and buggy.”
Since first opening its doors in 1920 under the aegis of Maj. Gen. John Lejeune to support Marine Barracks Washington, approximately 15.5 million Marines received professional military education through MCI.
Last spring, MCI converted its long-distance learning from its red course books — once synonymous with the institute — to a purely online format in an effort to cut costs.
“With budget cuts coming around ... we had to look at different courses of action where we wanted to go,” Lt. Col. Brian Taylor, former commanding officer of MCI Company at Marine Barracks Washington, told Marine Corps Times in April. “Looking at that, cutting the budget, [deactivating MCI] really was the right thing to do.”
Svaby enlisted in the Corps in 1972. He served two years on active duty before switching to a Reserve unit in his home state of Pennsylvania, where he became its training and education staff noncommissioned officer.
His original MOS — special assignment, enlisted — was an undefined “reporting MOS” that allowed him to join under an open contract and select his MOS later.
“I held 11 different MOSs over my career: admin, [motor transport], communications, food service, mobility … you name it, I did it,” Svaby said.
His favorite job, he said, was recruiting, which he did from 1989 to 1991.
Svaby said that being flexible ensured there was never a billet that needed to be filled in his Reserve unit’s table of organization. He could simply attend a two-week refresher course to become MOS-qualified, and the unit would never hurt for bodies.
Despite MCI’s closing, Svaby said, the need for professional military education will only increase.
“A smaller military only means PME will be the tie-breaker when it comes to promotion,” he said. “Don’t wait for the breaks, you make the breaks: Learn to budget your time and spend time in the library.”
Now that he won’t be making long-haul drives on a regular basis, Svaby said he’ll continue volunteer work closer to home.
In addition to tutoring local Hispanic high school students in English as a second language and serving as the armed forces chair on the local chapter of the National Association of for the Advancement of Colored People, he said he also mentors Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey.
“It’s time to drop my pack,” Svaby said. “I just want to give back to the community what the military gave me for the past 42 years.”