Family members help celebrate Aviation pioneer's final flight
July 26, 2012
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 26, 2012) -- A mixture of wind, tears, water and cheers met the Aviator as he stepped out of the Apache that carried him and his son-in-law on his last military flight July 20.
Family, friends and coworkers greeted CW5 Lance McElhiney celebrating his successful last flight as an active-duty Soldier after a 44 year career.
McElhiney's wife, Laurie, said it was important for her husband to have his last flight carried out at Fort Rucker.
"He wanted to fly with his son-in-law, CW4 Dan Lynn, who is stationed here at Hanchey. Lance retires Aug. 31 and graduated the Apache course here, so he wanted his final flight to be here with his son. That was the big thing," she said.
His wife and son, Lance Jr., an Air Force veteran, waited as he stepped away from the AH-64 to spray him down with a fire hose.
With his Family surrounding him McElhiney got a little emotional. "Forty-four years goes fast. I've been a CW5 for 19 years and I pray the younger ones can carry on what we have done. I am happy and sad. This is very bittersweet. I'm happy that I made it this far. I wouldn't change a single thing I've done. I want to cry, but I can't because I am an attack pilot."
McElhiney said the reason he served in the Army was to secure the safety of future Americans.
"It's about the future. It's about God and country. It's what our nation is all about. It's about kids and their future," he said.
He continued to describe how the Army benefited him and how he helped the Army.
"I started in 1969 and graduated here in 1970. I had no breaks and I never got out. I've been active duty the entire time. I wanted to make the warrant officer corps better. I've helped with a lot of policies and I am proud of that," he said.
McElhiney's career consisted of tours in support of the Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, three in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. He has a Purple Heart, two Legion of Merits, four Bronze Stars, and 31 air medals.
"I'm Airborne with 3,000 jumps, over 13,000 hours of flight time and 3,000 hours combat time. I've flown the TH-55, TH-13, B-model gunships, you name it. I went to Germany and helped with the first night vision goggle program there as well as to Iran as an Aviator adviser. I even used to be the standardization officer here at Fort Rucker for Apaches," he said.
McElhiney added that he just isn't as young as he used to be.
"In order to keep America strong, we have to keep our military strong. It's time for me to go. I am giving the reins to the younger guys. It's their time. It's their job to pick it up and take off," he said.
Those who knew him best were there supporting him during his last flight.
One of those was a friend and fellow pilot, CW5 Michael Reese, Chief Warrant Officer of the Aviation Branch, who served with McElhiney in Texas and Iraq.
"There isn't an attack pilot in the Army today that Lance hasn't touched and influenced in some way. This is just a small token of appreciation that the Aviation Branch is doing to celebrate his career," he said.
Jeremy Krometis, an Army civilian who served in the same battalion as McElhiney in Vietnam, said, "He is a true patriot. He's served all these years because he loves his country. This country owes him a big debt. He will be missed in the flying community."
Reese left him with one final wish.
"It's time to relax and enjoy retirement, Lance. We will keep driving on with your legacy," he said.
McElhiney was given his last flight strip before the celebration ended and he walked off the airfield shouting, "Go get`em boys and girls!"