Michelle Manhart Demoted, Discharged for Playboy Pics

Michelle Manhart, the Air Force noncom who caused quite a splash by posing nude for Playboy, has been demoted and discharged from active service. Details and video, along with some levity, at Gone Hollywood.

The case is interesting from a military and political standpoint, leaving aside from the prurient interest that seems to be driving Internet traffic on the issue.

First, while the Air Force had little choice but to separate Manhart–it’s rather difficult to maintain the respect of one’s subordinates after having lost, among other things, one’s military bearing in this way–it is, as Steven Taylor noted when the story broke, ironic to be discharging otherwise competent military personnel during wartime, especially when recruitment has been difficult.

Second, this creates a new variant on the “Klinger strategy” for getting out of wartime military service. Those over a certain age–or who watch reruns–will recall the exploits of the fictional Maxwell Klinger of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, wearing women’s clothing in order to get a “Section 8” discharge. The songwriter Arlo Guthrie detailed another variant, involving humming a few bars of the song in which he dispensed said advice, in order to create doubt about one’s sexual orientation.

Presumably, few have the requisite skill set to get published in Playboy. Still, it’s easy enough to start up a MySpace account or otherwise publish nude photos on the Internet. How many pageviews is necessary to violate the Manhart Rule?

Third, the case illustrates the complex nature of the Total Force. Manhart was reduced in ranks and discharged from extended active duty in the Air Force, thus returning to the Iowa National Guard. Presumably, Manhart would have been discharged from the service outright if she were in the Air Force Reserve. As a National Guardsman, though, she is now technically an employee of the state of Iowa. Presumably, however, she would not be eligible to recall to active duty and therefore useless to the Guard; I suspect, therefore, that she will be discharged soon enough.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M. Murcek says:

    She looks great in some photos, and scary in others. Agreed that military discipline has to take precedence here…

  2. ob1 says:

    ironic to be discharging otherwise competent military personnel during wartime, especially when recruitment has been difficult.

    The Air Force has not had a problem with recruiting, in fact they have too many people and are reducing by offering early retirements and other incentives to separate from the service.

  3. The AP caption for her photo explained the Air Force expected more from their “airmen”.

  4. The Air Force is also participating in the Blue to Green program where excess AF personnel move over to the Army.