Airman defends baring all in Playboy

Sig Christenson
Express-News Military Writer

In her days as a Lackland AFB drill sergeant, Michelle Manhart could be very stern.Now she’s simply steamy.

Manhart appears in a six-page Playboy magazine spread shot at a home in the Dominion.

As the magazine’s February edition hits newsstands today, irate Air Force officials have taken her off the job and launched an investigation. She’s hired a lawyer.

“There’s nothing wrong with it. I consider myself a very good image,” Manhart said Thursday. “By no means did I see anything negative in what I was doing.”

A SeaWorld-area mother of two whose husband is also in the Air Force, Manhart, 30, was photographed for the magazine last spring. The pictorial depicts her in classic Playboy poses, some in a weight room, with predictably little left to the imagination.

The idea of posing in the magazine had percolated since she was 12 and saw her first Playboy. It was a day she hasn’t forgotten and looks back on fondly.

“I said someday I’m going to do that,” Manhart said. “I’m going to get there someday.”

Over the years she modeled for newspaper ads and department stores, and twice sent photos from her portfolio to Playboy in hopes of making the cut. She was clothed in those shots.

Things picked up last spring when the magazine held casting calls in San Antonio. No sooner had Manhart left than she was called back, and two shooting sessions in the Dominion home quickly followed.

“She’s very beautiful,” Playboy spokeswoman Theresa Hennessey said. “She’s very well-educated, she’s very well-rounded and I think she has an interesting story.”

Manhart comes from a military family. Her dad served in the Navy, her stepfather in the Marines and a grandfather in the Army Air Corps.

Manhart arrived at Lackland for basic training on June 9, 1994, the day she graduated from Pleasant Valley High School in Chico, Calif.

At Lackland, she trained in the Air Force’s law enforcement academy and the K-9 program. In time, she’d earn a long list of medals and commendations, serve in Kuwait on the second anniversary of 9-11, get a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Northern Iowa and start on a master’s.

The photo shoot in the Dominion was the culmination of her dreams. It took place with a photographer, his assistant and a producer on the set and an atmosphere she called “very comfortable, very relaxing.”

“I was extremely excited about it,” Manhart said. “I remember asking, ‘Is there anything beyond this? What else can come of this?'”

That is a question the Air Force is trying to answer. Manhart last week told a superior she would appear in the next issue of Playboy and was relieved of duty pending an investigation.

“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,” Lackland spokesman Oscar Balladares said, reading from an Air Force statement. “It is not representative of the many thousands of outstanding airmen who serve in the U.S. Air Force today.”

Manhart disputes that.

“I think that the woman’s body is one of the most beautiful creations in the world. I don’t care who you are,” she said. “The body is like art to me. Everybody is their own being and because of that it makes everyone beautiful in their own way. Everyone is their own piece of art.”

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