SPRINGFIELD — A Marine with local ties died while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Monday, July 26.
Lt. Col. Mario D. Carazo, 41, was killed Thursday, July 22, in Helmand Province, the DOD reported.
Carazo frequently visited the area in the early 1990s to spend time with his sister, who was reportedly married to a Springfield native. He served two tours in Iraq and was awarded the Bronze Star medal. He died in a helicopter crash, according to media reports, but the military has yet to confirm his cause of death. The incident remains under investigation.
Carazo was a Cobra helicopter pilot based out of Camp Pendelton, Calif., and was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Beyond service to his country, Carazo had a strong impact on those under his command.
“If I had to rate all of my COs, he was No. 1, and I was in the Marines for 20 years,” said retired Staff Sgt. EMichele Paul. Carazo was her commanding officer until January.
Carazo enlisted in the Marines in 1987. He served in Iraq in 2006 and 2008, then deployed to Afghanistan this year.
He graduated from the United States Naval Academy and held master’s degrees in national security and strategy and operational studies. He shared his love of learning with his troops.
“He would always ask me if I was in school and I’d always tell him, ‘No, because I’m afraid of math,’” Paul said. “He’d take me into his office and help me with algebra then ask me if I got it. ...Now I’m in school and I have a 4.0 GPA. I can’t wait to get a copy of my grades and send them to his wife.”
During one tour of duty in Iraq, the father of two flew an American flag over the U.S. Embassy and sent it home to his son, who then raised the flag at his school, Paul said.
He received several commendations in his career, including a Bronze Star, a Meritorious Service medal and the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation medal.
Paul’s experiences with Carazo allowed her to know a person who was always smiling, looking for the best in everyone — he took the time to mentor every Marine under his command, she said.
“You couldn’t have any more respect for the kind of man he was. ...If it were possible to get more than 100 percent from his people, he could have gotten it. ...You just couldn’t know a better man. He is going to be missed,” Paul said, crying.