Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint is seen with his military working dog, Remco. Toussaint received the Silver Star because of his actions during a harrowing 2009 firefight in Afghanistan. (Michael Toussaint via AP)
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A senior master-at-arms and expert dog handler once censured by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for abusing subordinates has, in a remarkable twist of fate, been awarded the Silver Star for battlefield heroism during a harrowing 2009 firefight in Afghanistan during which he shot and killed two enemy fighters firing at him from less than 15 feet away.
Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Michael Toussaint "displayed great battlefield courage," Mabus wrote in the May 11 citation, a copy of which was http://www.militarytimes.com/static/projects/pages/silver_star_citation_062811.pdf">obtained by Navy Times. The Navy verified its authenticity.
Toussaint, whose retirement is pending, was presented the award Monday by the commanding officer of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, based at Naval Air Station Oceana's Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach, Va., Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Justin Cole said. Toussaint said he does not wish to comment, Cole said.
Toussaint, while assigned to the ultra-secretive SEAL direct action unit, was part of a helicopter-borne assault force that came under heavy automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade fire as soon as it touched down at a location undisclosed on the award citation. Toussaint and his combat assault dog began pursuing a group of maneuvering enemy combatants — members of al-Qaida and the Taliban, according to the citation. As he approached an enemy position, heavy automatic weapons fire erupted.
The team began engaging the enemy fighters. The DEVGRU element leader, maneuvering beside Toussaint, was critically wounded. Toussaint's dog was mortally wounded. The citation described what happened next.
"Despite the violent effective fire and in an effort to protect his teammate … Toussaint continued moving toward the fighting position, relentlessly engaging the dug-in enemy until he finally eliminated the two fighters from a distance of less than 15 feet. His actions ended the engagement, allowing his teammates to provide lifesaving combat casualty care to his wounded team leader."
Toussaint's actions were cited by Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs, in a Feb. 17 ruling that Toussaint could retire in grade with an honorable discharge despite his conduct during a 2004-06 tour of duty as the senior enlisted member at Naval Security Force Bahrain's military dog division, where a 2007 command investigation uncovered more than 90 instances of gambling, consorting with prostitutes, hazing and abuse of junior sailors.
Several of those instances involved Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Joseph Rocha, who arrived in Bahrain in February 2005. He told investigators that he began volunteering at the kennel. In a 2009 interview, he told Navy Times that Toussaint singled him out for aggressive hazing.
Rocha said Toussaint accused him of being gay — he is, but said he didn't then admit it, as per the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy — and teased him. Once, Rocha said, Toussaint and several other sailors tied him up with ropes and duct tape, then locked him in a dog kennel full of dog feces. In a "training scenario" in which dog handlers encountered two men having sex, Rocha said Toussaint told him to get on his knees and simulate giving another sailor oral sex.
Rocha was discharged in 2007 when he openly acknowledged being gay, he told The Associated Press, "I was tormented by my chief and fellow sailors, physically and emotionally, for being gay. The irony of ‘don't ask, don't tell' is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply."
Navy officers interviewed by AP downplayed Rocha's complaints. AP reported Feb. 17 that two officers, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Navy officials had concluded that Rocha's charges actually involved "minor" hazing and that many of his and others' claims were unsubstantiated.
Garcia said that Toussaint "did not meet the standards expected of senior leadership in the Navy," but said that "when looking at his career in its entirety, I have determined that his conduct did not rise to a level sufficient to warrant retirement in a paygrade less than E-8."
Garcia said he "weighed heavily" the results of all earlier investigations and reviews as well as Toussaint's overall career — including, Cole then said, an act of battlefield heroism in Afghanistan. This was that act.
Staff writer email@example.com?subject=Question from NavyTimes.com reader">Andrew Tilghman contributed to this report.