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Fort Worth soldier reflects on attention stirred by skivvies

Even before soldiers were screaming "Contact, Contact, Contact," Army Spc. Zachary Boyd of Fort Worth knew there was trouble outside Firebase Restrepo.

The tip was gunfire echoing across the rugged Korengal Valley of eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

Taliban fighters ambushed a patrol of U.S. soldiers who were trying to get back "inside the wire."

Boyd, who had just gone to bed, grabbed his helmet and M4 carbine, and then joined fellow Viper Company troops at the wall, searching for targets.

"The Taliban's favorite maneuver is to ambush," Boyd recalled, so the soldiers responded with "a lot of suppressive fire."

But as they poured machine gun fire and mortar rounds into the valley, a camera shutter was clattering away.

And so Boyd was photographed by David Guttenfelder of The Associated Press, fighting the Taliban in pink boxers decorated with the slogan "I Love New York" and a red Woolley's Frozen Custard T-shirt.

The 20-year-old soldier on Saturday visited Woolley's Frozen Custard on Beach Street, his favorite hometown spot. He reflected on the world-wide attention stirred by Guttenfelder's photo.

Scores of admirers, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, praised him for being so eager to fight, that he didn't bother with trousers.

There has been a flood of encouraging e-mails, Boyd said, even from Austria, Japan and China.

Some people sent care packages, while others have offered tickets to ball games or a chance to test drive a high-performance race car.

And Boyd, currently without a girlfriend, bashfully acknowledged that some women have e-mailed to say "nice butt."

The soft-spoken radio operator said he's grateful for the attention, but he's also concerned that the heroics of his fellow soldiers might be overlooked.

"I just don't feel like I deserved anything extra," Boyd said.

"We all served together," he said, "and we did the same job."

Boyd, a 2007 graduate of Keller Central High School, is the son of Tommy and Sheree Boyd of Fort Worth.

He returned home around midnight Thursday after a year-long tour of duty in Afghanistan that included more than 200 firefights. The soldier reports back to Fort Hood on Monday.

But not everyone who read about the firefight last April was impressed with Boyd's attire.

Several anonymous critics e-mailed Star-Telegram.com to say Boyd's brightly colored skivvies and red T-shirt made an easy target of himself and fellow troops.

Boyd, on Saturday, was unapologetic for his bright sleepwear.

"The most important thing is to respond," he said with a quiet, even voice. "Every second counts. And any support you can give those guys means a lot.

"I was in a fixed position, so (the Taliban) already knew where I was."

But, he said, if he could draw fire away from the guys who were pinned down, "fine with me."

"They've done the same for me."

Everyone from the patrol made it back to base, Boyd said.

But were his commanders so forgiving?

"Um, well, they were poised to give me some," Boyd said with a shy grin.

He noted, however, that attention over the photo "got so big, so quick that I really didn't experience any negative repercussions."

Gates told an audience in New York City that Boyd displayed a "special kind of courage."

He added that the soldier's military career was "very safe indeed," even though the president might have seen the soldier "out of uniform" on the front page of the New York Times.

Commanders from the 1st Infantry Division, Viper Company's parent unit, confiscated the boxers, but not to discipline the man who wore them.

The skivvies are expected to be on display soon in the division's museum at Fort Riley, Kansas, Boyd said.

"I didn't get a chance to wash them," he quipped.

Boyd kept the red T-shirt from Woolley’s, but on Saturday, he autographed it and returned it to the business.

Owners Brett Allen and John Woolley said they're eager to display it.

Boyd is unsure what will happen next, but he wants to be an Army helicopter pilot.

He appreciated the support he got from Apache attack helicopters, and now he wants to fly one, which might push back his plans for college.

Boyd turned down an ROTC scholarship at Texas Tech University to enlist in the Army.

"I wanted to be out there doing something," he said. "Guys were getting deployed for six times and I figured there was more I could do than going to college."

Boyd said that if he doesn't get into flight school, there's a chance he'll be returned to combat, but he's okay with that.

He shrugged and said, "It's what I signed up for."

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