CAMP HOVEY, South Korea - For the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment's Company C, maintaining the legacy of the company's first Bandido commander is serious business; one that each Bandido Soldier lives each and every day.
Company C, or as it's officially named, Bandido Charlie, first got its namesake in 1967 during the Vietnam War when 1st Lt. Larry A. Garner assumed command of the unit. While in command and leading his troops in battle, Garner would routinely wear a red bandana around his neck, and it didn't take long for his men to follow suit.
After seeing the Soldiers in their red bandanas and in clear violation of uniform regulations, the battalion commander told Garner that he and his men "looked like a bunch of bandidos." Liking the name, Garner immediately began referring to the company as Bandido Charlie.
"His mentality was a somewhat renegade mentality, but they were the best at what they did so they got away with it," said Capt. Robert C. Churchill, the current commander of Bandido Charlie and a native of Flushing, Michigan. "He found a way to rally his men and it was to do something that was against all regulations, but they rallied behind a logo, they rallied behind a red bandana and ultimately behind Larry Garner, who found a way to build a cohesive team."
After renaming the company, Garner acquired more bandanas for his men and worked with the company to design a unit patch and company specific flag, or guidon, the same pattern used on the company's guidon today.
"These men and women were put in horrible positions, and for a man like Larry Garner to come along, he was just a dude that wanted to do the best he could for his men," Churchill said. "He truly had a mission first, but Soldiers always mentality."
Garner would pay the ultimate sacrifice during his service in Vietnam. After relinquishing command of the company, Garner volunteered to lead a small group of Bandidos to rescue a downed helicopter crew on July 30, 1967. Once at the crash site, Garner established a defensive perimeter in preparation of an enemy counter attack, during which he and two other Soldiers were killed defending the downed aircrew.
"To me, that's pretty powerful," Churchill said. "In a draft Army, and in a war that was gaining less support from the people back home, he still raised his hand and said, 'yes, I'll lead some of the Bandidos to help these guys out,' and he paid the ultimate sacrifice for it."
Garner's fighting spirit and dedication to duty still lives on in the unit today.
"What that does to today's Soldiers is it puts them in a mindset that they are part of something special that goes back 50 years," Churchill said. "It breaks us apart from every other unit in the sense that we are different, and with that there's responsibility."
"We have to act better and we have to get better at what we do every day for those that came before us," he added. "And it truly does show in our company."
While the spirit of the Bandidos has lived on in the company, it wasn't until 2005 former Bandido commander Sherwood Goldberg, along with some senior Army leadership, petitioned the Department of the Army to reinstate the company's name and signature guidon. After a unanimous vote from the Soldiers of the company, the Department of the Army approved the unit's official name, making it the only company level unit in the Army to carry a distinctive unit designation.
For Churchill, it's a point of pride to be the commander of Bandido Charlie, and he uses the lessons learned from the past to ensure he provides the best leadership possible to his Soldiers.
"I have to be where the friction is for the company," he said. "I have to put myself in the worst position first to show that the men and women of the company are going to be okay, because that's the responsibility of Bandido Six."
Even for the Soldiers of Bandido Charlie, Garner's reputation and commitment to the Bandido name lives on in the unit. All Bandido Soldiers carry a red bandana with them, and during training, the Soldiers can be seen riding top of their signature M1 Abrams tanks still wearing the iconic red bandanas and flying their unique company guidon.
"It means everything," said Spc. Maxwell Chandler, an M1 Abrams tank loader with Bandido Charlie and a native of Coleman, Alabama. "We get trained for it and we live it every day -- once a Bandido; always a Bandido."
The Soldiers of Bandido Charlie are currently on a nine-month rotation along with the rest of the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division to South Korea to support the South Korea-U.S. alliance and provide security to the Korean peninsula.
For more information on Bandido Charlie and their history, visit the Bandido Charlie Association webpage at http://bandidocharlies.org/.