Gen. Rainey’s Four-Star Formula

Published on September 20, 2023

By Elise Russell

Faith, Family, Friends, Freedom

Akron, Ohio native, Gen. James E. Rainey, ’87, came to EKU on a swimming scholarship—a decision he claims formed the launchpad for his successful career in the United States Army and marriage of 35 years with his wife, Tracy, ’88.

“It all started here,” Rainey says about his time at EKU. “It’s where I fell in love with my wife and fell in love with the Army.” The swimming scholarship enabled him to attend college, then he quickly found his niche in Army ROTC. 

“I always knew I wanted to be in the Army, but my first exposure was when I joined ROTC,” Rainey said. “It’s where my passions meshed with what I need to be able to do, which is to serve and give back for all the blessings and opportunities we have living in this great country.” 

Commissioned in 1987 as an infantry officer from EKU, Rainey now serves as commander of the Army Futures Command—a new organization in the Army, set up in 2018. He began the position in October 2022, when he earned the promotion of four-star ranking, becoming one of only 242 four-star generals of the U.S. Army dating back to 1866 and the only known EKU alumnus to achieve this distinction. 

“I’ve been blessed to lead some phenomenal organizations,” Rainey said of his Army career, amassing over 35 years of continuous service. He held several leadership roles in the Army, including deputy chief of staff of the G-3/5/7 at the Pentagon and commanding general of the United States Army Combined Arms Center. He commanded the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, a unit deployed to Iraq during the war, and the 3rd Infantry Division, “one of our great units that I had the privilege of leading,” he noted. He also previously oversaw the total education system of the U.S. Army.   

In his current position with the Army Futures Command, he’s responsible for designing the Army of the future. Lighting a fire in Rainey, he says, is the fact that they’re focused on preparing the Army for 2040, which is the year his grandson will turn 18. 

“Every day I wake up thinking about that, and I go to bed every night feeling like I did something that matters,” Rainey said.

From Northern Kentucky, his wife, Tracy, came to EKU as the first female in her family to graduate junior high and high school and pursue a college degree. While at EKU, she joined the Chi Omega sorority, an experience she says provided her with support throughout college and prepared her for life as a military spouse.

“Being an Army spouse is like being in a sorority with volunteering and leadership and helping other people,” Tracy said. Despite 24 moves in their 35 years of marriage, Tracy works as an occupational therapist, volunteers among the military community and has raised their two daughters. While in Georgia, she lobbied for legislation regarding professional certification for military spouses, named the Tracy Rainey Act in her honor. When her husband worked with the military education system, she advocated for and made notable progress in spousal education credentialing. Next on her agenda includes increasing suicide awareness among military families and children. 

Tracy humbly says she never forgets where she came from, and the Rainey’s make it a priority to come back and visit EKU’s campus, most recently in May.

“We are exceptionally proud to have an EKU graduate serving our country as one of the top-ranking officials of the U.S. Army,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Gen. Rainey proves testament to EKU’s exceptional reputation in military and veteran education and to our mantra as the School of Opportunity. With passion, dedication and perseverance, EKU alumni can change the world.”

In recognition of Gen. Rainey’s distinguished service to the public, he was presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree at EKU’s spring commencement ceremony. 

Reflecting on his personal formula to success—faith, family, friends and freedom—Rainey said, “Nobody achieves success in life, and definitely not in the Army, on their own. It’s all about the other people. It’s very humbling when I think about those great people here [at EKU] then all throughout my career, and most importantly, the soldiers that I was lucky enough to lead, and the sacrifice of my family.”