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.”