Chief Warrant Officer Five (CW5) Lance McElhiney has been instrumental in developing attack helicopter operations for the U.S. Army while imbuing a warrior ethos in countless Army aviators. McElhiney was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1946. He graduated from high school in Jacksonville, Florida and completed two years of college at Central Florida. He wanted to join the Navy’s cadet program for flight school, but unfortunately the program had closed. With the draft for Vietnam in full swing, McElhiney walked across the hall and joined the U.S. Army through a program called “out of high school to flight school.” He completed flight school at Fort Walters, Texas and Fort Rucker, Alabama earning his pilot wings in January 1970. He then received training on the first attack helicopter in the world: the AH-1G Cobra.
In June 1970, McElhiney deployed to Southeast Asia with the 101st Airborne Division. He participated in the invasion of Laos during which he was shot down three times in three days (losing only one helicopter), provided close air support (CAS) for ground troops at a place called “Ranger North” (for which he received a Purple Heart), and assisted in rescuing a Special Forces team out of an undisclosed location (for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross). Upon his return to the US, he flew UH-1C/M gunships as all AH-1s were employed in the war effort. Through the 1970s, McElhiney served in the XVIII Airborne Corps as the Army’s first Cobra senior Standardization Instructor Pilot (SIP) and started the Army’s first terrain flight and Night Vision Goggle (NVG) flying programs. He was also a member of the team that selected the AH-64 Apache as the new US attack helicopter.
In the early 1980s McElhiney served with distinction in Hanau, Germany before returning to Fort Rucker, Alabama helping to implement AH-64 flight training programs. In 1990 with war looming, McElhiney volunteered to deploy with the 2-229th Flying Tigers. Following his participation in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he again served in Germany and ultimately at Fort Hood, Texas. In 2003, some 33 years after cutting his teeth as an Army attack pilot over the jungles of Southeast Asia, McElhiney faced his greatest challenge yet: fighting through the Karbala Gap in Iraq. McElhiney had witnessed first-hand how Army attack aviation tactics changed from a CAS role in Vietnam to the utilization of maximum standoff during Operation Desert Storm. Arguably, he was one of the few who knew what was required for survival that fateful night near Karbala.
During pre-war training, he taught all of the aviators within his unit what to expect from the Iraqis and his assessment varied drastically from official intelligence estimates. McElhiney told his fellow brothers in arms that it was going to be a knife fight and to fix bayonets. He was right. After Operations Iraqi Freedom I and II, McElhiney returned to Fort Hood and continued to help transform Army aviation at all levels. He has since completed an additional tour to Iraq and is preparing for a third. He currently lives outside Fort Hood, Texas with his wife, Laurie.