Bryan Black was a champion long before he became a soldier.

Army Staff Sergeant Black was killed in an ambush Wednesday in Niger, according to U.S. military officials. He was one of four members of a Special Forces Group killed by extremists.

The Army identified Black, Staff Sergeant Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright as casualties on Friday. The identity of the fourth soldier has not been made public.

The soldiers were assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Stars and Stripes reports the unit works with partner nations in North and West Africa to promote stability in the region.

Black, 35, graduated from Puyallup High School in 2000. In 1999 he earned the title of "co-champion" of the Tacoma Chess Club, competing against adults. The next year he qualified for state as a wrestler for Puyallup High.

Black joined the Army in 2009 and had several awards and decorations including the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Special Forces Tab, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Marksmanship Qualification Badge - Sharpshooter with Rifle.

Black’s parents still reside in Puyallup.

“It’s absolutely heart-wrenching for them,” said neighbor Alexis Zoch.

Whittney Kamel, who lives across the street, had a son in the Navy and said she feels for Black’s mother, Karen.

“As a mother I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” said Kamel. “Her son is a hero to us.”