Image: Soldier Pink Boxer
David Guttenfelder  /  AP
Zachery Boyd, in pink boxers, was routed from his sleep on May 11 by Taliban fire on a base in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan's Kunar Province. With him are Cecil Montgomery of Many, La., far right; and Jordan Custer of Spokane, Wash.
updated 5/22/2009 3:30:36 PM ET 2009-05-22T19:30:36

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says American soldiers have more than their military might and training on their side in the war in Afghanistan. Some have pink underwear.

Gates told an audience in New York about Specialist Zachary Boyd, routed from sleep by enemy fire on his post in eastern Afghanistan.

"He immediately grabbed his rifle and rushed into a defensive position clad in his helmet, body armor, and pink boxer shorts that said 'I Love New York,'" Gates said Thursday night.

"Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your perspective, an AP photographer was there for a candid shot," Gates continued.

The photograph by David Guttenfelder ran on the front page of the New York Times and is featured in the msnbc.com slide show on this story.

Gates said Boyd, from Fort Worth, Texas, later told his parents he might get fired. Gates assured his audience at the Intrepid museum, and Boyd, that his job is safe.

"Any soldier who goes into battle against the Taliban in pink boxers and flip-flops has a special kind of courage," Gates said, adding that Boyd may have hit on a new kind of psychological warfare. "I can only wonder about the impact on the Taliban.

Just imagine seeing that — a guy in pink boxers and flip-flops has you in his crosshairs."

At least initially, the soldiers were worried the photo would make them look bad, Guttenfelder said. But Firebase Restrepo, on a steep mountainside where soldiers are on constant lookout for Taliban fighters, isn’t a place for formality: Uniforms have holes in them, and some men wear flea collars because of bugs in their beds, he said.

Boyd called his parents at 12:30 a.m., Fort Worth time, to warn them about the photo. He was legitimately worried about losing his job, said his mother, Sheree Boyd.

Her husband, Tommy, immediately got on the computer to find the photo and roared with laughter, she said. The boxers were emblazoned with “I Love NY.”

“We thought it was such a funny picture but so typical of him,” Sheree Boyd said of her son, who turned 20 on Sunday. “He’s always liked boxers, the wilder the better. But we’d never seen him wear pink before.”

The photo drew a wide response on the Internet. A handful of commentators found it an undignified representation of America’s fighting forces but most supported Boyd. “I think this is great,” a woman named Melissa wrote on a TV station message board. “I wish I had an address for him. I’d send him some that say ‘Don’t mess with Texas.”’

Guttenfelder said Boyd was one of the bravest soldiers he’d seen in Afghanistan. The photographer believes that most people recognize what he saw in the situation. “When the Taliban starts shooting, whatever you’re doing, whatever you’re wearing, you run to your station,” he said.

Sheree Boyd said she and her husband had heard from many people expressing admiration for their son. She’s eating that up, as any mom would, but said she appreciates how the photo reminds Americans that it’s the “kid next door” fighting the war.

She said she hopes to see her son back home by the Fourth of July. Would he be wearing pink boxers in any Independence Day parades?

“Don’t challenge him,” she said, laughing. “He just may do it.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Camp Restrepo

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  1. Soldiers from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry take defensive positions at Camp Restrepo after receiving fire from Taliban positions in the Korengal Valley on May 11. Spc. Zachery Boyd of Fort Worth, Texas, far left was wearing 'I love NY' boxer shorts after rushing from his sleeping quarters to join his fellow platoon members. From far right is Spc. Cecil Montgomery of Many, La., and Jordan Custer of Spokane, Wa., center. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Spc. Zachery Boyd searches the sky for an A-10 aircraft on a bombing run over Taliban positions in the Korengal Valley, which lies around 70 miles northeast of the capital Kabul, on May 10. In the past three years almost 60 Americans have died in the remote valley, which has been the scene intense fighting between U.S. troops and local tribesmen and militants. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Missiles fired at suspected Taliban positions from Apache helicopters explode on a hillside in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan's Kunar Province on May 10. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Spent rounds lie at the feet of a soldier from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry as he returns fire on a militant position as Camp Restrepo comes under attack on May 8. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Soldiers fire mortars from the Korengal Outpost at Taliban positions on May 12. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Staff Sgt. Steven Dubois of Remus, Mich., loads a rifle magazine with ammunition. His tattoo reads "For The Fallen" and lists the names of 17 of his friends who have died in combat during his tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been over 600 American military deaths in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led toppling of the Taliban in 2001. At least 4,280 have died in the Iraq war since it began in 2003, according to The Associated Press. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. SSG Alexander Pascual, right, from Kohala, Hawaii, goes on patrol in the mountains of in the Korengal Valley on May 9. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. An Afghan local village elder meets with soldiers and an interpreter, left, during a patrol on May 9. American soldiers often have the dual, and sometimes contradictory, job of warrior and community outreach worker with local Afghans. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Soldiers from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry, are followed by the platoon's pet dog "Chinook" as they patrol a mountain road on May 9. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Soldiers return from a patrol to their outpost in the Korengal Valley on May 8. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Spl. Taylor Jordan lifts weights in the rain at Camp Restrepo on May 8. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Lt. Glenn Burkey shaves his head at his platoon's base at Camp Restrepo on May 8. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Staff Sgt. Alexander Pascual from Kohala, Hawaii, cooks chicken on a grill on May 9. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Steven Bates of Independence, Mo., sits with his platoon's pet dog "Chinook" on May 11. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Spc. Cecil Montgomery of Many, La., right, is treated by medic Pfc. Dorian Biberdorf of Bellevue, N.D., inside a medical bunker on May 9. Montgomery's leg, which was gashed in an operation two weeks ago, became infected and a medic had to open the wound to try to remove the infection and sterilize it. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Spcl. Ryan Shriner from the U.S. Army First Battalion, 26th Infantry smokes a cigarette as his patrol rests in the valley on May 8. (David Guttenfelder / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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