SAN ANTONIO - An Air Force staff sergeant who posed nude for Playboy magazine has been relieved of her duties while the military investigates, officials said Thursday. In February's issue, hitting newsstands this week, Michelle 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.
"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," Oscar Balladares, spokesman for Lackland Air Force Base, said in a statement.
Manhart told Playboy that she considers herself as standing up for her rights. "Of what I did, nothing is wrong, so I didn't anticipate anything, of course," Manhart, 30, told The Associated Press. "I didn't do anything wrong, so I didn't think it would be a major issue."
Manhart, who is married with two children, joined the Air Force in 1994, spending time in Kuwait in 2002. She trains Airmen at Lackland.
And you thought the biggest news out of the military last week involves a troop surge in Iraq.
That merely involves life and death.
Americans are far more interested in Michelle Manhart, the most famous staff sergeant in the United States Air Force. She's a drill sergeant who finds herself in big trouble for posing nude for Playboy magazine.
The 30-year-old career military woman is, of course, a former Iowan.
That's right.The wife of an Air Force enlisted man and mother of two is a 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa and a former member of the Iowa Air National Guard.
Manhart, a California native, came to Iowa in 2001 when her husband was assigned as an Air Force recruiter in Waterloo. She had been in the Air Force since 1994 and was assigned to full-time duty in the Iowa Air Guard when her husband took his Iowa assignment.
"I'd had some college when I got there but started at UNI," Manhart said in a telephone call from San Antonio, Texas, where she is currently based. "I graduated with a degree in political science. I had a pre-law minor."
She was even president of the Daniel Webster Law Society at UNI, she said. And to prove it wasn't all business, she was social chairwoman at the Alpha Xi Delta sorority at UNI.And there was her time with the Air National Guard's 132nd Fighter Wing, which is based in Des Moines. That included a deployment to Kuwait.
She and her husband left Iowa in November 2004, when she took over duties as a drill sergeant, training new members of the Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base during their first weeks in the military. Drill sergeants - they're called training instructors in the Air Force - are not the most beloved people in a recruit's life. In fact, the word "beloved" may never before have appeared in the same sentence with the term "drill sergeant."
In any case, Manhart showing up in Playboy almost certainly was a shock to the young men and women she has screamed at during the past couple of years. Most likely, they'd never seen her out of uniform, and in Playboy she most definitely is out of uniform.
It likely was more of a shock to Air Force commanders who, when getting a look at the 6-page layout in America's most famous nudie magazine, relieved Manhart of her duties pending an investigation to determine what regulation she may have violated.
"Hooah! The Naked Drill Sergeant," it says on the front of the February issue. And the Playboy headline writers aren't kidding. OK, she's wearing shoes in one of the photos and dog tags in another, which may be a problem for authorities. The brief article accompanying the photos is titled "Tough Love."
An official Air Force statement said, "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."
Manhart says that is a load of bunk, that she did not violate any rules and that she did not bring discredit to the Air Force. "I've done my job well, and I love the Air Force," she said. "I've served my country honorably for 13 years. I think that entitles me to the same rights as every other citizen."
Talk about this thing becoming a big deal. Google's search engine is nearly worn out from people calling up "Michelle Manhart." Nobody had heard of her a month ago, but Google her today and you get 1,090,000 hits. Very few are related to a discussion of Manhart's rights to do such a steamy photo shoot or to the Air Force's need to maintain some sense of decorum in the ranks.
For clarity's sake, she is, indeed, identified in the Playboy article as Michelle Manhart and she is reluctant to identify or bring attention to relatives. But pre-Playboy layout information released by the Air Force about her, including her duties as a drill sergeant, refers to her as Michelle Cross-Manhart.
So would she move back to Iowa?
"No way," she said. "I didn't like it."
Then she did a quick course correction and clarified.
"Actually, I loved Iowa," she said. "I loved the people. They were wonderful. I loved UNI. Going to school there changed my mind on so many things. It made me think. We lived in Fairbank and my grandparents moved there when we did. They love it, other than the fact they can't find a copy of Playboy in town. My brother ended up marrying a girl from Sumner.
"Iowa is a wonderful place. It's just the weather. I'm from California. I hate the cold. Iowa weather sucks. What can I say?"
She hopes to stay in the Air Force and remain a drill sergeant, and she thinks there's no reason it shouldn't happen.
"There's no regulation that says I can't pose for Playboy," Manhart said.
True enough, I told her. I was in the Air Force and nobody told me I couldn't pose for Playboy.
So Manhart is waiting it out, assigned to other duties for a while, hoping she gets to put back on her drill sergeant's campaign hat. If it happens, the Air Force brass probably hopes she keeps it on.
SAN ANTONIO - An Air Force drill sergeant and former Iowa National Guard member who posed nude for Playboy magazine has been removed from active duty, she said Wednesday. Whether that amounts to an honorable discharge, as Michelle Manhart also says, is unclear.
Manhart, who appeared in a six-page spread in Playboy's February issue, said she got word Friday that she was removed from "extended active duty" and was also told that she was demoted in rank from Staff Sergeant to Senior Airman.
"I'm disappointed in our system," Manhart told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "They went too far with it."