Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan Saturday to meet with U.S. and Afghan leaders, his first such trip since assuming duties from former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the turn of the New Year.
And while the stop was noteworthy in that it comes in the wake of a peace agreement — in principle — between the Taliban and the U.S., it was Shanahan’s outfit selection that caught the eye of any fortunate enough to gaze upon such unbridled enthusiasm for dark, neck-hugging attire.
So popular was Shanahan’s ensemble that the topic even came up days after the Afghanistan visit when, just moments before a joint-discussion on defense issues, Shanahan and U.K. Defense Minister Gavin Williamson were overheard celebrating the garb.
Enhanced audio of their subtle pre-briefing exchange, provided by CNN, revealed the following dialogue:
Shanahan: Should we smile?
Williamson: Absolutely. This is totally natural.
Shanahan: Did you like my outfit?
Williamson: I did, I did.
Shanahan: Thank you.
Williamson: My political adviser INAUDIBLE NAME said, “Have you seen what Patrick INAUDIBLE...?” You did all black when you’re in Afghanistan...
Williamson: She said... she said you look like special forces.
Special forces might be a bit of a stretch. A combination of Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs, perhaps.
But as long as Shanahan’s daring fashion statement continues to be a topic of discussion — and evidently a source of pride for the man in black — he may as well be commended for his brazen outfit selection.
In wearing the mysterious duds, Shanahan ascended to a pantheon of both all-black and turtleneck-donning trailblazers.
Here’s how he stacks up against some other greats.
1. The Matrix
Shanahan looks like he was plugged into the Matrix in 1999 along with Neo and Trinity, but decided to remain there ever since.
You think that’s Afghan air you’re breathing now?
Somewhere, a faint voice of Hugo Weaving’s character, Agent Smith, is taunting, “Mister Shanahan."
Shanahan’s look can certainly be attributed to classic Gru, but don’t let the “Despicable Me” villain’s failed attempts to steal the moon sway your view of the acting SECDEF.
He may not be actively pursuing objects that orbit Earth, but trading in minions for troops has to count for something.
3. Herman Munster
The 1960s TV series, “The Munsters,” may have been short-lived, but the iconic look of Herman, the friendly family patriarch, has influenced popular imagery of Frankenstein’s monster — and Halloween costumes everywhere — in the decades since.
Could Herman’s outfit selection have had an impact on one huge fan?
4. The Fifth Beatle?
Early 1960s Beatles were obviously fans of the black turtleneck, donning them on their second studio album, “With the Beatles.”
He’s got the outfit down, and with a little help from his friends, Shanahan can dive headfirst into Beatlemania with a simple incorporation of a vintage mop-top hairstyle.
5. Simon, Garfunkel and Shanahan
“Hello darkness, my old friend” indeed.
Even in the far corners of Afghanistan, Paul and Art would have felt homeward bound had they spotted such a familiar getup.
6. The Rock says...
Few photos of a man in a turtleneck have inspired world peace more than Dwayne Johnson’s throwback.
The turtleneck tucked in, the chain, the fanny pack. Imagine being body-slammed through a table by a guy wearing a fanny pack. No one has ever been more secure.
With neckwear that says, “No, Patrick. You actually don’t need oxygen,” Shanahan, sources say, does in fact smell what the Rock is cooking.
7. Bond villain
Mads Mikkelsen’s dapper presentation may have known no bounds in “Casino Royale” — he was playing high-stakes poker after all — but that doesn’t mean Shanahan’s Bond look is not top-notch.
“Mr Bond, you persist in defying my efforts to provide an amusing death for you.”
8. Steve McQueen
Few throughout human history could pull off a turtleneck like McQueen, who flawlessly strutted the look in the classic high-speed chase thriller, “Bullitt.”
Shanahan certainly looks ready to hop into a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback — or a 1968 Dodge Charger 440 Magnum, if he’s feeling villainous enough.
Wherever the look originated from, Shanahan certainly made a splash in the most un-Mattis-like manner.
The military’s resident fashionista will have a tough time upstaging such an undaunted statement on apparel.
Jon Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.