GENOA - Community members gradually found out Monday that a local Illinois National Guard soldier had died in a helicopter crash early Sunday. First Lt. Brian Slavenas, 30, of Genoa was the pilot of a Chinook helicopter shot down near Fallujah, Iraq, around midnight CST. He and 15 others were killed. Lance Gackowski, a science teacher at DeKalb High School, remembers Slavenas as both a student and an employee. Between semesters at the University of Illinois, Slavenas helped load trucks for Gackowski's furniture business. "He was outstanding," Gackowski said about Slavenas' work ethic. "He was a great, big kid." According to Gackowski, Slavenas bulked up after he started lifting weights more when he got out of high school. "It was almost hard to carry furniture with him because he would carry stuff that was easy for him, but not for the other guys," Gackowski said. One of the most memorable stories Gackowski has about his former part-time employee was when he asked Brian to help him remove a nail that was stubbornly stuck in a board. Gackowski pried as hard as he could without getting the nail to budge. He then called over the much stronger Slavenas. Gackowski said Slavenas bent the hammer while trying to remove the nail from the wood. "I still have that hammer because I was so amazed," Gackowski said. Slavenas graduated from DeKalb High School in 1991. While at DHS, Slavenas participated in track by throwing the discus. During his junior year, Slavenas moved next door to classmate John Rossi, who now lives in Sycamore. "We liked to take road trips and go to state parks," Rossi said. "We'd rent a van and take off for two weeks." The two along with other friends went to such places as the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. Rossi last saw Slavenas when he and a friend went to visit him at the beginning of February at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. The guys sat around and watched sports just like they used to do after class in high school. "Back in the '90s I don't think we ever missed a game," Rossi said. When Slavenas did not have access to a phone, he would exchange letters with Rossi. While he was stationed in Italy, Slavenas told Rossi he loved skiing over there. Slavenas was deployed to Iraq with his unit in February as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Of course when everything was going down, he wasn't too happy to go," Rossi said. Rossi remembered Slavenas, who stood 6 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed nearly 230 pounds, as a big guy who really got into weightlifting. "He was probably the greatest guy you'd ever meet," Rossi said. "Even though he was that big, he wouldn't hurt a fly." A representative from the Illinois National Guard's Public Affairs Office did not know when a funeral service would be held for Slavenas. First Ward Alderwoman Glennis Carroll attends Faith United Methodist Church in Genoa with Brian's family. She has memories of Slavenas from when he was a little boy. "I remember him as a very happy, sincere little boy" from a "very loving family," she said. Brian's brother Marcus was outside his family's home answering questions from the media on Monday afternoon. He thought of his brother as being very "ritualistic." "He goes to school. He lifts weights. He goes to work," Marcus, a Persian Gulf War veteran, said. Both of Brian's brothers, Marcus and Eric, and their father, Ronald, served in the military. "Iraq as far as I know has never directed an attack against us," Marcus said. "I would like to see the Ameri-can military used to defend America and not police the world." Brian Slavenas was a member of Company F, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation in Peoria. Chronicle City Editor Chris Rickert contributed to this report.