Christmas came early at Leonard and Jackie Gay's Stawell household a few months ago, when the family swapped gifts and had an early Christmas dinner before daughter Melissa deployed aboard HMAS Parramatta.
Able Seaman Melissa Gay will spend Christmas at sea, serving her country as part of Operation Resolute - the Australian government's border protection operation.
For Melissa, it will be a double celebration as she will also be celebrating her 22nd birthday aboard the ship today.
While older sister Ribbi is investigating joining the RAAF, Able Seaman Electronic Warfare sailor Melissa joined the Navy three years ago and now operates some of the most high-tech electronic warfare systems that the Royal Australian Navy has ever known.
Growing up watching old war movies with her dad, Melissa had wanted to join the Australian Defence Force since primary school.
As an Electronic Warfare specialist, Melissa uses specialised sensors and hi-tech equipment to intercept, locate, and identify electronic transmissions from both friendly and hostile forces.
The former Marian College student now finds herself fully trained up in 'Force Protection' measures, using equipment such as the F88 Steyr rifle and the Browning 9mm semi-automatic pistol. She is also part of the ship's medical emergency team.
Melissa has even picked up some much older ship maintenance skills, like painting, sanding and rope work; all important skills for the modern day sailor, as was done by the sailors of 150 years ago who operated in the same harsh marine environment.
Melissa said the operational capability and the work she and her shipmates are doing is important and she enjoys seeing how everyone on the ship performs the dozens of roles are required on any given day.
"Because of the chefs, the admin staff, the medical staff, and everyone else doing their jobs, it's a great ship to work on," Melissa said.
"But, the most rewarding thing about being involved in Operation Resolute is putting the training into practice and saving people's lives," she said.