We haven't bestowed an "Idiot of the Week" award in quite a while. Not that there's been an absence of buffoonery and scandal among the political elites, the rich, the powerful and the notorious; we've simply been preoccupied with other matters.
But, then again, it's rare that we find a candidate so deserving of the award; an individual whose moronic actions are enough to resurrect the honor and secure it for themselves. But, after searching high and low (and reading through some recent wire service copy), we have found someone who genuinely deserves the title of "Idiot of the Week."
Meet Staff Sergeant Michelle Manhart, United States Air Force.
Until recently, SSgt Manhart was a military training instructor (MTI) at Lackland AFB, TX; charged with transforming raw recruits into airmen. A big part of that teaching assignment is the "modeling" of desired behavior, from wear of the uniform and standards of conduct, to proper execution of military customs and courtesies. For any young man or woman joining the Air Force, the MTI is their first mentor, for better or worse. I still owe a debt of gratitude to SrA Crunk, the TI who helped me get squared away at Lackland back in 1981, and put me on the road to a long and successful Air Force career.
As for SSgt Manhart, her days as an MTI are (thankfully) behind her. She was recently relieved from her duties after posing nude for a pictorial spread in Playboy's February 2007 issue.
I haven't seen the photographs, but they reportedly show SSgt Manhart fully clothed and performing her duties, along with shots of her both partially clothed and fully nude. Manhart has been an Air Force member since 1994, and apparently hopes the Playboy shoot will pave the way for an acting or modeling career. And not surprisingly, SSgt Manhart sees nothing wrong about what she did:
Of what I did, nothing is wrong, so I didn't anticipate anything, of course, Manhart said Thursday of the pictorial. I didn't do anything wrong, I didn't think it would be a major issueh I've been serving for 13 years, fighting for everyone 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?
Of course, the Air Force sees things a bit differently. Lackland spokesman Oscar Balladres outlined the service's position in a prepared statement:
"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 US Air Force today."
As for SSgt Manhart's one-woman crusade to secure our personal liberties...give me a break. When Manhart passed through the gates of Lackland the first time (as a basic trainee), she learned that military personnel don't have the same rights and liberties as civilians. She has no more "right" to pose nude in Playboy, Popular Mechanics or the Old Farmer's Almanac than she does to appear in uniform at a political rally, or record a TV commercial for her favorite Congressional candidate. As outlined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (and thousands of court decisions), there are clear restrictions on what a military member can and cannot do. Posing without your clothes on in Playboy definitely falls into that latter category, despite Sergeant Manhart's rather interesting take on civil liberties.
Fact is, if SSgt Manhart wanted to pursue a career in nude modeling, she was free to do so--as long as she separated from the Air Force beforehand. With 13 years of military service under her, um, belt, Manhart has re-enlisted at least twice, possibly three times. If you want to try your hand as a Playboy centerfold--something clearly incompatible with military standards and values--then why not get out of the Air Force, doff your duds, and have at it? Why bother to re-up if your new off-duty pursuit is likely to end your military career?
The answer is simple: no matter how attractive Sergeant Manhart might be, her appeal for Playboy lies in her military status. The magazine has run pictorals on women in the military at least four times over the past 25 years, featuring them both in and out of uniform. The features serve a two-fold purpose: not only do they attract a lot of young, male, military readers (a key demographic for the magazine), they also allow Hef to take a little shot at the repressive, conservative military "culture" that he so clearly loathes. Without her military status, it's doubtful that Playboy would have much interest in a woman whose other credentials are "wife" and "mother."
That's why I can't decide if SSgt Manhart is cynical, stupid, or a little of both. As career NCO with more than a decade of service, Michelle Manhart clearly understood the consequences of her actions. That suggests someone who is both cynical and calculating, aiming for an early discharge and some sort of "career" in the entertainment industry.
But if she expects Playboy to jump-start the next phase of her life, she is sadly mistaken. As those past military pictorals prove, the magazine is quite adept at using military women, anxious for a taste of fame, then casting them aside once that issue leaves the newsstands. That was the fate of two Navy women who have appeared in Playboy over the past decade. Sergeant Manhart might want to ask them if their brief exposure (no pun intended) and that check from the magazine was worth their military career.
And, I hope someone will track down the former SSgt Manhart in ten years or so, and ask her the same question. Regardless of how she answers, it will affirm one thing: Michelle Manhart's conduct is woefully inconsistent with military standards, and she should not be training newly-inducted airmen (or anyone else, for that matter).
For deliberately defying military rules of conduct--and then wondering what the fuss is all about--Staff Sergeant Michelle Manhart is our Idiot of the Week.