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Published: Friday, 4/17/2009

Ohio sailor pursues bad guys from deck of a Navy destroyer

BY CARL RYAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

FAYETTE, Ohio - A 2006 graduate of Fayette High School is a crew member of the USS Bainbridge warship, which rescued Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates on Sunday.

Melina Gardner, 21, is a technician who helps maintain electrical components on the Bainbridge, including the guided-missile destroyer's gas turbine engines.

The petty officer 3rd class also trained in weapons and has performed duties at the helm, according to her stepfather, Randy Mellott.

"She's a go-getter. On her first trip, she [was at the helm as] the ship went through the Suez Canal," said Mr. Mellott, a plumber who owns his own business.

"It's pretty exciting for a 21-year old," added Christina Mellott, the young sailor's mother. "She's seeing places that I've never been able to see. She's been to Italy, Spain, and the Seychelles."

The Mellotts have stayed in touch with Petty Officer Gardner mostly though e-mail, although this is often impossible when the Bainbridge is at sea and its Internet service is shut down for security reasons, Mr. Mellott said.

They've been keeping her informed of what's going on in Fayette by posting notes on her Facebook page.

Earlier this week, they got a surprise when they saw on the page a photo of her standing next to Captain Phillips, whose bearded image was sent around the world after he thwarted a hijacking of his ship by offering himself to the pirates as a hostage.

He was rescued when Navy SEAL snipers aboard the Bainbridge killed three of the pirates. The 53-year-old sea captain is expected to arrive in his Vermont hometown this afternoon.

Yesterday, the crew of his ship, the Maersk Alabama, flew into Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, and the Bainbridge arrived at the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Petty Officer Gardner joined the Navy about 2 1/2 years ago, her mother said. In doing so, she followed a family tradition of military service.

"I was an Army nurse. Two uncles of hers were in the Army, and one was a Marine. And my parents were both Army veterans," Mrs. Mellott said. "She's the third generation to be in the military. She has a stepbrother, Patrick, who wants to be a Navy pilot. And her stepfather was a Navy diver who specialized in disposing of explosive ordnance."

Mrs. Mellott described her daughter as "an accomplished artist and great animal lover. As an artist, she can draw just about anything. She's very technically talented too. When she's home, I have her do things to my iPod."

Last year, the Bainbridge also was involved in hunting pirates, Mr. Mellott said.

"But we didn't hear about it until it was over. Melina is my hero. We don't get much press out here in Fayette, but this is great," he said.

Contact Carl Ryan at:

carlryan@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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