Pensacola, Florida may be known as the "cradle of Naval Aviation" but some might argue that an aviator's life does not truly take shape until they receive a call sign.
Call signs are earned, not given. They are also not typically meant to be cool, despite what film and television often depict.
Sometimes call signs are clever compliments to a surname. At other times, they are laced with a story, often one that is funny if not incredibly embarrassing.
The greatest of call signs are so well selected that they seem to capture everything about the person that bears it. Eventually, these aviators are known almost exclusively by their new name. Using anything else in reference might confuse fellow pilots until the call sign brings clarity to the conversation.
For Lieutenant Colonel Mario Carazo, he earned one of those call signs that stand out because his was so incredibly perfect.
With a big grin and calm demeanor, it turned out that Mario bore a striking resemblance to Golden Crisp's mascot Sugar Bear. Sugar Bear, a staple character for Post's classic cereal brand, had a knack for overcoming foes in clever and happy-go-lucky ways. Depicted in commercials with an iconic blue turtle neck and sly smile, Sugar Bear challenged Tony the Tiger and Cap'n Crunch as the most widely recognized cereal characters throughout the 1980s and 90s.
When a fellow pilot recommended it be Mario's call sign, the squadron ready room erupted with emphatic approval.
"Well, I guess I got it," Mario casually remarked with his signature smile.
In many ways, "Sugar Bear" captures so much of Mario's story, particularly his life before the Marines.
Mario, the youngest of four children, was the only U.S.-born member of his Costa Rican immigrant family. For years, he struggled to learn English, but persevered through hard work and, of course, his smile.
"Mario would say that it wasn't until the third grade when he started to really understand English," says his wife Jennifer. "Before that, he got by with always smiling and being happy."
Of course, Mario did more than simply master English. He would go on to earn his degree from the United States Naval Academy and was commissioned as a Marine Second Lieutenant in 1991.
Mario flourished during his time in the military. Those that served with him remember how much he cared about his troops and his family. Whether he was personally tutoring a young Marine struggling with algebra or hosting nearly three dozen others from the maintenance shop during Thanksgiving, Mario truly enjoyed taking care of those he loved.
"Mario always looked after the Marines, especially during the holidays," recalls Jon Sablan a close friend and former squadron mate. "That is just the type of guy he was. Whenever anyone wanted to talk or needed something, Mario dropped what he was doing so he could listen and help."
Lieutenant Colonel Mario "Sugar Bear" Carazo gave his life in the service of others on July 22, 2010 while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
In the wake of her family's loss, Jennifer Carazo rallied behind Mario's memory and has contributed to a number of remarkable organizations that make an impact in the lives of military families.
With the help of Dog Tag Brewing Foundation, Jennifer recently began work on creating a nonprofit in honor of Mario. Her organization's mission will be to support surviving spouses and children of the fallen by providing assistance and supporting programs to foster personal, emotional, and social well-being. Forming this foundation is a remarkable way to carry on Mario's legacy of serving others in need.
For those that meet Jennifer, she too leaves an incredible impression. Her energy and positive outlook is an inspiration to all of those around her.
"Mario always saw things as half-full. No matter what it was, he was always just so positive. I have really learned to take that on," Jennifer says with her own signature smile.
So when it came time to give a name to the foundation - a name that would best embody what the organization stood for - one choice clearly stuck out above the rest.
No better choice for a remarkable mission in honor of an incredible man.
Here's to you, Mario. Semper Fidelis!
DOG TAG BREWING FOUNDATION
HONOR. EDUCATE. INSPIRE. CELEBRATE.
Dog Tag Brewing Foundation is a combat Veteran-run nonprofit that partners with Gold Star Families to celebrate the lives of our nation's Fallen Warriors.
Interested in contributing to the Foundation's mission of supporting and enhancing Gold Star Family initiatives? Please take a moment and visit our Call to Action Page. Your support matters!