2017-10-06 / Business

Former Marine walks to the beat of nonstop service

Story and Photo by Jennifer Scales, Dorn VAMC Public Affairs


Chris Rainey, engineering technician at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, talks about the advantages to just one of the modern machines in his department. Many items for the medical center can now be produced in-house instead of using outsourced companies. Chris Rainey, engineering technician at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center, talks about the advantages to just one of the modern machines in his department. Many items for the medical center can now be produced in-house instead of using outsourced companies. Working on your birthday can be an eyeopening experience…you never know who you might meet or run into. Such is the case for one employee of the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C.

So here is the situation: imagine being New Employee 1 at the medical center on your birthday, and you casually meet New Employee 2, who offers to buy your lunchtime meal for your special day.

In accepting the invitation, New Employee 1 casually mentions his desire to do assigned tasks, but the equipment needed is unavailable; therefore, most of his work is being outsourced locally, which is costly for the medical center.

“I wish I knew who I could talk to around here to get the right equipment to save us money and really do my job,” New Employee 1 says.

New Employee 2 says, “Well, you’re talking to him. Tell me what you need.”

Thus began the conversation years ago between New Employee 1, who is engineering technician Joseph Christopher Rainey, known as “Chris” around the facility, and New Employee 2, Jeff Soots, who was then the newly appointed logistics chief, and now is Dorn’s associate director.

With the acquisition of the state of the art machine that can spew out various sizes and shapes for billboards, posters, and signs around any part of the medical center, Rainey has been able to create and keep many requests for such items in-house with a faster turn-around time for completion.

Another component of his job is that of an archivist. “I keep up with blueprint records that go as far back as the 30s to the present. These include all types of projects for Dorn which consist of construction and remodeling,” Rainey said.

Supporting about seven engineers in the Engineering Branch of Dorn, Rainey has access to archives either on CD or hard copy blueprints. He has a system in place for accurate filing and knowing where nearly every nook and cranny, old and new, exists for the medical center.

There is another aspect of his job which keeps him moving about the medical center 80 percent of the time. “This is probably why so many people see me all over the place,” Rainey said. He admits to walking seven to 12 miles a day, just checking areas of the facility with contract employees to ensure they are following the scope of work as laid out in their respective contracts.

History for Rainey at Dorn began when he would escort his Marine Veteran dad, the late Russell “Sparky” Rainey to the medical center. Born in Chesterfield, S.C., Rainey followed his father’s boot prints into the Marines.

“Going into the delayed entry program of the Corps was the best thing ever for me,” Rainey said. “I needed that structure and I found it in the motor transport field as a light vehicle operator.”

With career plans mapped and the intention of retiring after 20 years of service, life dealt a double blow to the budding Marine. Rainey’s father died while he was in basic training which followed with a tour in Okinawa, Japan, that brought his military dreams and career to an end after he fell 20-feet from a structure.

With a shattered shoulder and a small taste of bitterness because he was unable to meet the physical standards to remain in the Marine Corps, Rainey returned to the states and soon found himself utilizing medical services in 1997 at Dorn, just as his father had done before him.

Never one to give up, Rainey later applied for a job in Veterans Affairs and was selected as a wood crafter in 2006. In this early appointment, he was one of several journeyman carpenters who were masonry workers, placing sheetrock and floor tiles at the center. But back surgery in 2012 took him away from that job, and he was subsequently placed in the assignment he currently holds in engineering.

Rainey noted two Dorn projects he has been excited to be a part of since being an engineering technician: boiler plant operations and the operating room.

“The new boiler plant had to come on line before we even got to have a ribbon cutting on it. When the flooding came through Columbia in 2015, we had to have an emergency opening to sustain the medical center; I was excited to be a part of my first project as an engineering tech working with the operating room in the air handler situation.”

Rainey is also currently involved in the projects for inpatient psychiatry for the wings of 3 North and 3 West and the surgical intensive care unit of 2 North.

“If something is broken, it should be fixed, even if I have to do it myself,” Rainey added. “And when you like what you do, it’s no longer work. You get a fulfillment from any accomplishment.”

Rainey also gives kind words of admiration to Associate Director Patient Care/Nursing Services, Ruth Mustard. “She is one of my favorite persons here. I have seen her dedication in her career as she ‘lives and breathes’ Veterans,’” Rainey said. “I like her style, and she is also very approachable. In my opinion, if she ever leaves here, she will never be replaceable.”

His own accomplishments continue away from work in his personal home renovation business and with the times he gets to spend with family. His children Addison, Mallory, Emma, and Christian along with wife Julie enjoy time at state parks and zoos.

“Sleep is overrated,” Rainey said. Living on about four hours per night, he gets up and comes in everyday, wanting to do the right thing, not only in his job. “I can’t just sit still…I have to keep moving and doing something progressive. I feel this position that I am in is the right fit for me.”

Rainey stresses that it’s all about making a difference for the veteran.

“Even if we are not in a clinical position, if we could all help at least one veteran a day, either by escorting them to an appointment or helping them with a meal, listening to them, or some other service, no matter what job we have, it would show how much we care,” Rainey concluded.

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