Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, Frazier Park, Calif.

To friends who knew him when he starred on the high school football team and worked at the local lumber store, it seemed all but inevitable that Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser would grow up to be a war hero.

"When he went into the Army that was his dream, to become an Army Ranger," Glenn Wilson, a former football buddy, recalled.

Prosser, 28, was one of the three elite Special Forces soldiers killed in Afghanistan Wednesday when a bomb missed its Taliban target and landed about 100 yards from them. Twenty others were wounded in the worst "friendly fire" accident of the war.

The death left this small town nestled in the mountains of Los Padres National Forest devastated but at the same time bursting with pride to have known a man hailed as a hero.

"He was a leader, a warrior and proud to be a soldier," Prosser's 22-year-old brother, Jarudd Prosser, said by phone from his Frazier Park home. "He's my role model."

Prosser lived in nearby Bakersfield with his wife, Shawna. But the family home for years has been located in Frazier Park, a tiny, bucolic mountain town with an old-fashioned main street that appears still anchored in 1950s America.

A popular day-trip destination with Los Angeles residents 50 miles away, it sits at an elevation ranging from 4,000 to 6,000 feet. It and several surrounding small communities are home to about 8,400 residents.

"This whole community is affected. The Prosser name is pretty renowned here," said Carla Johnston, who said she has known Prosser all his life and whose husband, Joshua, attended Maricopa High School with him.

It was there that Prosser was captain of the football team. After school, he worked at Alpine Lumber.

"He was quite a character," Jean Miller, the store's manager, recalled with a laugh. "He had a sense of humor."

Prosser's father, also named Brian, ran his own welding business in Frazier Park at one time.

As friends dropped by to offer condolences to the soldier's mother and father, Ventura County sheriff's deputies quickly blocked off access to outsiders to the family's rambling, ranch-style home, which is situated a half mile off the nearest road. Outside is a large sign, erected in happier times, that welcomes visitors to "Prosser Country."

"We're dealing with it as a family," a man who identified himself as Prosser's youngest brother told an Associated Press reporter before a sheriff's deputy ordered her off the property. "I know time heals all wounds, but I think over time it's just going to get worse."

One of four brothers, Prosser joined the Army soon after graduating high school.

"I think of him as a jock and someone who would go into the military and serve his country well, Jeff Richardson, 32, recalled fondly over a drink at the town tavern Wednesday night. "His family members are all upstanding Americans."

Jarudd Prosser said the family knew the risks involved, adding that as soon he learned his brother was shipping out he made it a point to tell him how he felt about him.

"In a war, people die," he said Wednesday. "It puts a lot of things in perspective. It really makes me think when you care about someone, you have to tell them that. When I heard he was going overseas, I left nothing unsaid."

The other soldiers killed Wednesday were identified as Master Sgt. Jefferson Donald Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn., and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass.

All were members of the Army's 3rd Battalion, 5th Special Forces Group, stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Gov. Gray Davis issued a statement Wednesday night praising each of them.

"These men served their country valiantly," he said. "They made the supreme sacrifice for our freedoms."