Wade Slack, right, and his father, Alan, in 2008 at the younger Slack’s graduation from Explosive Ordnance Disposal School at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Photo provided by Lauren Slack

Editor’s note: Story courtesy of the Texas National Guard public affairs office.

CAMP MABRY, Texas⁠ — Wade Slack was a kid who loved hunting and video games. He was devoted to his family. And he dreamed of becoming a soldier.

As he approached adulthood, he quickly realized his dream, enlisting in the U.S. Army months before he graduated from Waterville Senior High School.

Spc. Wade Slack died May 6, 2010 — shortly after his 21st birthday — at Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, from injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit.

His younger brother, Andrew, recalled how the news of Wade’s death put an end to his own childhood, forcing him to face adult realities.

“I had been up to no good, doing my own thing,” Andrew Slack said. “I didn’t really think anything of the military. It didn’t really occur to me that people die overseas every day. It was a stern reality check when we had those government employees show up at my mom’s house.”

Things did not get easier for Andrew Slack or his family through the years that followed. His father, a veterinarian in Waterville, died of a heart attack a year and a half later. Before another two years had passed, one of his sisters, who struggled with alcohol and other drug addiction, took her own life.

“Today is a culmination of what the circumstances of my young adult life produced,” Andrew Slack said May 6, the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.

Now a first lieutenant in the Texas Army National Guard, a platoon leader in the 111th Engineer Battalion and a liaison officer for Joint Task Force 176’s COVID-19 response mission, Andrew Slack reflects on how the events of his life have shaped his values and beliefs about soldiering and leadership.

“As terrible as that was to accept in the beginning, as well as the deaths that followed within my family within the next four years, it puts things into the perspective of not taking things for granted and not wasting time,” said Slack, who has applied this lesson to his work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As he was preparing to take on the role, he heard that liaison officers tend to feel useless, only answering telephones day after day.

Regardless of whether that may have been true for anyone who had held a similar position in the past, Slack seized the opportunity to develop himself and contribute significantly to the mission.

“I looked around at the collective knowledge in the room, realizing how much I didn’t know, and realized that you’re only useless if you don’t take advantage of a situation,” said Slack, explaining that his eagerness to learn led to increased opportunity and responsibility.

“I quickly went from dialing phones, to successfully emulating the battle captain position, to being assigned in mission analysis of 176th Task Force construction objectives.”

Slack’s insistence in seizing all the opportunities in his role aligns with the philosophy his brother demonstrated through his actions: “Love what you do, and do it to its fullest.”

Wade Slack had enlisted in the Army with the goal of disposing of explosives intended to kill service members or local civilians. Despite the obvious dangers involved in this profession, he had his heart set. And after basic training, he completed the 37-week explosive ordnance disposal training, or EOD, that is challenging enough to wash out 75% of the class.

“He knew what he wanted to do,” Andrew Slack said. “He executed just that to EOD standard.”

On the 10th anniversary of Wade Slack’s death, Joint Task Force 176 finished the daily brief with silence and reverent words about him. Col. Robert Crockem, the task force’s commander, said remembering fallen soldiers can help us stay careful and not become complacent.

“We have to be aware of what we’re doing at all times, and not take for granted that things are always going to work out,” Crockem said. “It brings a sobering reality to the fact that we’re in the military, and the military can be a dangerous business.”

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