A native of Angwin in Napa County was one of 25 U.S. Special Operations forces killed Saturday when a helicopter was shot down by enemy fire in the Wardak province of Afghanistan.
The Chinook helicopter was fired on by insurgents using a rocket-propelled grenade. It was carrying 38 coalition members -- including eight from other countries and five U.S. aircraft personnel -- who were a mission targeting a Taliban leader in eastern Afghanistan.
Twenty-nine-year-old Derek Benson was part of the mission and was on board the helicopter when it crashed. He was born in Angwin and has served in the Navy for the past 12 years, said his grandfather, Carlyle T. Benson, of Angwin.
He was a Navy SEAL, part of an elite group tasked with special military operations that require extensive training and discipline.
"He's a fine boy, we're extremely proud of him. He was one of the top men in his group," his grandfather said.
Derek Benson grew up in Angwin and attended local schools and a private high school, where he was a good student and enjoyed extracurricular sports, his grandfather said.
He is survived by his wife, Kara, and their 3-year-old son. He met his wife while he was training in San Diego, according to his grandfather.
Benson was stationed in Virginia, and his wife and son moved there to be closer to him. After receiving news of his death they returned to Angwin to be with family.
Benson obtained a commercial pilot's license a few months ago, and was considering becoming a pilot after leaving the military, his grandfather said.
"Not necessarily for the airlines, but as a firebomber or something like that," Carlyle Benson said.
The deaths of Benson and his fellow soldiers mark the deadliest single incident for the U.S. since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan in 2001.
Their passing has been mourned throughout the country, and has prompted condolences from U.S. and world leaders.
President Obama expressed his admiration for the soldiers killed in action during a speech on the economy today.
"Their loss is a stark reminder of the risks that our men and women in uniform take every single day on behalf of their county," the president said. "Day after day, night after night, they carry out missions like this in the face of enemy fire and grave danger."