WATERVILLE — A Waterville High School graduate and U.S. Army soldier died Thursday while serving in the Wardak Province of Afghanistan.

Spc. Wade A. Slack, 21, was with the Army’s 707th Ordnance Battalion, of Ft. Lewis, Wash., and specialized is diffusing explosives.

Slack attended Waterville Senior High School from 2003 to 2007. He is the son of Alan and Rose Slack of Waterville and Mary Slack of Waterville.

Dr. Alan Slack, of the New England Animal Hospital in Waterville, said today that his son “had been oriented for military service since 14” and that Wade enlisted while a senior in high school for specialized training that required “intelligence and a top-secret security background check.”

“It’s not something every person can qualify for,” Alan Slack said. “He had been in Afghanistan the last 10 months. I saw him at Christmas, talked with him last weekend — he was very happy. I sent him a postcard every day.”

Wade, his father said, “was always bright and cheerful” and “always trying to keep others’ spirits up.”

“He was always looking for the silver lining in any cloud,” Alan Slack said.

Gov. John Baldacci ordered flags lowered to half-staff on the day of Slack’s funeral, the date of which had not been set yet.

Alan Slack said he and other immediate family members would be leaving early Saturday to attend a ceremony at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the evening.  

Wade Slack had been stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and last year was promoted to E4 specialist with a specialty in explosive ordnance disposal. Slack completed his basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., and his advanced individual training at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. and Englin Air Force Base, Fla.

Robert Fletcher, of Waterville, a longtime family friend, said he was amazed at how quickly news of Slack’s death spread late Thursday night as friends learned the news through Facebook, texts, phone calls. The result, he said, is that everybody was quickly able to start consoling each other.

“People got together really quickly,” Fletcher said. “He was loved by many and liked by everyone.”

Carole Dodge, assistant principal at the high school, recalled Slack as an honors student who was passionate and caring, and knew by high school that he wanted to serve in the military. Dodge said she had Slack as a student when she was a music teacher at the junior high school.

“He died doing exactly what he wanted to do,” Dodge said. “He was a great young man. He was focused and knew what he wanted in life.”

At school, “he was a very nice person to everybody,” she said. “Just somebody you want to be around.”

At The Last Unicorn — where Slack worked one and off as a cook from 2005 to 2007 — employees today were hugging and consoling each other.

Michelle Cyr, owner of The Last Unicorn, said Slack’s brothers and sister have followed suit — and some still work there. Slack, she said, was a “fine young man” who was an example to his siblings, she said.

“He was the sweetest, kindest — and brave,” Cyr said. “It’s so tragic. Anybody who knew him, they loved him.”

And as specialist who disarmed explosives, “he saved so many lives,” Cyr said.

Jason Ladd, a dishwasher at the restaurant, said he and Slack had been friends since Slack was age 10. Ladd, who was seven years older, said he’ll remember Slack as supportive friend who gave good advice and enjoyed video games, movies and shooting.

“I could talk with him anytime; he always had an ear,” Ladd said. “He was never judgmental — just really wise beyond his years in a lot of respects.”

Every time Slack came back home for a visit while in the Army, he would take time to visit as many friends and family members as possible, Ladd said.
“His family was the world to him,” he said.

According to Slack’s MySpace page, which prominently features a background image of Batman from the movie “The Dark Knight,” he liked “a lot of stuff,” but “mostly my family, which includes my friends … because if (you’re) in the same business that I am, then you would understand that your friends are family.”

A note posted Dec. 23, 2008, on his MySpace page, said Slack was “happy to be home again” and another note says Slack would like to meet “as many people as possible.” Another page note says “(Lest) we forget our sacrifices” above a bird’s eye image of soldiers forming words: “9-11 — We Remember.”

In a statement, Gov. Baldacci said Friday he had spoken with Slack’s parents.

“We can never take for granted the service of our men and women in uniform,” Baldacci said. “They are the best among us and sacrifice for their country and their communities. Our prayers go out to Spc. Slack’s family and friends.

“He loved his family and he loved his country,” Baldacci added. “He was a dedicated soldier who served his country with honor. All of Maine mourns his passing.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said in a statement that Maine “has a long tradition of coming together during a crisis, and I know the entire Waterville community and all Mainers will join me in assisting Wade’s family with whatever they need during this difficult time.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe said in a statement that Wade “tragically gave his life defending our nation with limitless courage” and that “we owe him a debt of immeasurable gratitude that we can never repay, and must never forget.”