By IAN HILL
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Facing a cafeteria full of elementary school pupils isn't nearly as daunting as flying a helicopter low and fast over foreign waters, but it does present challenges.
For example, if you're a Navy pilot, how do you respond when a young pupil asks what you do "to people who do bad things?"
Arrest them, answered Lt. Jeffrey Melody, 28, an Austintown native who gave a presentation Monday afternoon at Lynn Kirk Elementary School, which he had attended.
In October, Melody, now of San Diego, was among the Navy pilots deployed to the Strait of Malacca on the USS Ford. The Ford's mission was to protect ships and help stop oil smuggling in the 400-mile strait, which runs between Malaysia and Indonesia.
While on the Ford, Melody received packages and letters from pupils at Lynn Kirk. The packages included Girl Scout cookies, valentines and St. Patrick's Day cards.
Melody returned from his deployment last week. He told the Lynn Kirk pupils the packages brightened the Ford crew.
"Morale is high right now because of what people like you do. We're thinking about you, we really are," he said. "I hope you think about the sailors and soldiers."
In response to the packages, Melody wrote to the pupils and told them about his travels and life on the ship. He said he tried to explain the conflict in simple words the pupils could understand, using terms like good guys and bad guys.
Second-grade teacher Jacquelyn Burgan said Melody's letter helped pupils learn about geography, and Lynn Kirk Principal Nancy Hahlen said she thought the letters taught pupils about the gravity of the situation faced by American military personnel.
"This was someone they knew," Hahlen said. "I think it brought the realness of the situation to them."
Hunt for bin Laden
The pupils asked Melody if he had been trying catch Osama bin Laden, and if he had ever been too scared to fly.
Melody answered that though he was nervous when he first learned to land a helicopter, fear has never stopped him from flying. He added that every U.S. soldier is searching for bin Laden.
"Hopefully, we're going to find him real soon," Melody said. "He's not a very nice guy."
As part of his presentation, Melody also stressed the importance of education. "You can do anything you want one day," he said.
The presentation kindled curiosity among some pupils. Fourth-grader Justin Whitesell, 10, noted that he wanted to know why Melody decided to go into the Navy, and fourth-grader Jessica Cole, 10, said she wanted to know "how he drives helicopters."
Melody said he wanted to learn how to fly, so he attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. after graduating from Fitch High School in 1992.
Doreen Parilla, a fourth-grade teacher at Lynn Kirk, said she remembers Melody as a "wonderful boy" who was polite and a good pupil. "I'm not a bit surprised that he's accomplished so much," she said.