SAN ANTONIO ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ “Drop and give me 20!” is something you might hear Air Force Staff Sgt. Michelle Manhart yell to airmen trainees at Lackland Air Force Base. Drop her trousers is what Manhart did for Playboy magazine, and now it’s landed her in trouble with the military…. In a six-page spread in February’s issue, hitting newsstands this week, Manhart is photographed in uniform yelling and holding weapons under the headline “Tough Love.” The following pages show her partially clothed wearing her dog tags while working out, as well as completely nude. Manhart, 30, who is married with two children, has been relieved of her duties pending an investigation, according to Lackland AFB spokesman Oscar Balladares.
There is something inherently hypocritical in an organization that attributes its very existence to the need to protect our rights and liberties and then comes down heavily on a member who takes advantages of those very rights and liberties. Regardless of what you think about Michelle Manhart posing naked for Playboy, there’s a little thing called freedom of speech and expression that, while objectionable to some, is enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Manhart’s particular form of expression may not sit well with the “holier than thou” crowd, but you’re not required to agree with her. You ARE required to respect her right to express herself as she chooses. As I’ve often said, free speech and expression is often objectionable speech and expression. You may not like it or agree with it, but you do have to accept it as a right guaranteed to her under the Constitution. What you’re not required to do is purchase the February issue of Playboy.
Manhart is fortunate to have an understanding husband as well as the physical assets to pull off a Playboy spread. These realities should have no bearing on her ability to serve her country, which by all indications she has done admirably for 13 years. If she is willing to deal with the fallout of those she trains perusing photos of her in her birthday suit, than what, really, is amiss here? What harm has been done to morale (actually, seeing Manhart naked probably boosted morale…among other things)? Or is it just that the old, moralizing, holier-than-thou sorts farther up the Air Force’s food chain are so terrified about public perceptions of the military that they won’t countenance anything that even smacks of “immorality”?
“This staff sergeant’s alleged action does not meet the high standards we expect of our airmen, nor does it comply with the Air Force’s core values of integrity, service before self, and excellence in all we do. It is not representative of the many thousands of outstanding airmen who serve in the U.S. Air Force today,” Balladares said, reading a statement.
Manhart has modeled since she was younger and joined the Air Force in 1994, spending time in Kuwait in 2002. The California native said she hopes the Playboy photo shoot will pave a way into an acting or modeling career.
You can bet that the publicity surrounding her situation certainly won’t hurt her chances of achieving her dreams. For that, I suppose, she should be thanking those so willing to overreact in slapping her down.
The pictorial’s accompanying article mentioned the possibility of trouble for the brunette drill instructor. But when asked in the article whether it might get her in “hot water with Uncle Sam,” Manhart replied: “I’ve been serving for 13 years, fighting for everyone’s rights. Why wouldn’t I be able to stand up for my own rights and participate in the freedoms that make this country what it is?”
Manhart said she didn’t see the magazine as an escape from the military. She also said she is completely committed to her job.
“I’ve proven myself. … They picked me to train our future airmen of the world,” she said. “They picked me to train these individuals so if they elect to say I don’t have (integrity) then that’s their opinion.”
The reality is that our military is run by a cadre of moralizing, uber-religious Evangelical zealots who live in fear of a member of the military doing anything outside of the box. While you may or may not support Manhart’s action, there’s nothing in what she did that adversely impacts national security or operational readiness. What she did do was to apparently offend someone’s sense of moral propriety, and for that she’s going to be hung out to dry. Chances are that if those in the Air Force hierarchy who are demanding her (naked) hide had just ignored Manhart, all of this would have faded away when the March issue of Playboy came out. All they’ve done is succeed in turning her into a cause celebre. If these people had any brains at all, they’d figure out a way to use her as a recruiting tool (Sir…is that a stripper pole??).
Damn…this almost makes me want to join the Air Force….