TURLOCK -- A Turlock soldier has died in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense announced Monday.
Spc. Benjamin C. Pleitez, 25, died Friday in Mazar-e-Sharif. A member of the National Guard since 2006, Pleitez was a medic assigned to the 1072nd Transportation Company, 746th Combat Support Battalion, 224th Sustainment Brigade in Van Nuys.
Salvador Pleitez said he doesn't yet know how his son died; a National Guard public affairs representative did not have that information Monday afternoon. Benjamin Pleitez is the 33rd military member from the Northern San Joaquin Valley and foothills to die in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Salvador Pleitez flew to Maryland on Sunday night; his son's body arrived Monday.
"The first impression we had was like somebody had taken our heart out," Pleitez said. "But we are starting to get our head around it."
He said an autopsy will be performed, and then he will be returned to the Valley, where the family will have a service.
Benjamin Pleitez was born in Paradise, then moved with his family to Carson City. The family moved to the Turlock area in 1999; Pleitez attended Modesto Adventist Academy and Denair High School before graduating through an independent study program. The family since has moved to Hughson.
Benjamin Pleitez took good care of himself, his father said. "He did a little bodybuilding and he ran," Salvador Pleitez said. "He liked to be in shape, and he was always attentive to what he ate and what he did. He was a health freak in some ways."
After high school, Benjamin Pleitez got an emergency medical technician certificate. "He enjoyed being a medic and being able to be of service to his fellow soldiers," his father said.
Benjamin Pleitez had a brief marriage that ended in divorce. In addition to his father, he leaves behind his mother, Diana, and two brothers, Jon, 28, and Evan, 21.
Salvador Pleitez last saw his middle son in February, before the unit deployed to Afghanistan in March.
"I heard from him last week," he said. "He was posting on Facebook on Thursday, and on Friday we got the news that he had been killed."