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Laywer: Forrest Sherman CO was fired for turning rusted AK-47 into war trophy for his ship

The commanding officer of the warship Forrest Sherman was fired Wednesday due to what a Navy press release deemed a “loss of confidence in his ability to command.”

But Cmdr. Frank Azzarello’s attorney told Navy Times Wednesday night that there is more to the story than the vague “loss of confidence” line that Big Navy puts out for every CO relief.

Azzarello was fired because he turned an old AK-47 rifle into a ship trophy following an at-sea raid of a weapons cache believed to be heading from Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen and didn’t follow the proper U.S. Defense Department procedures, his attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said.

Regs exist when a commander wants to make a war trophy, and Azzarello was not aware of those regs, the attorney said.

U.S. 2nd Fleet officials declined to comment on the particulars of the firing.

Forrest Sherman’s November 2019 boarding and seizure of the weapons from a dhow in the Middle East “was a big one,” Parlatore noted, and U.S. Central Command put out a press release highlighting the massive weapons seizure.

A U.S. Central Command press release showcases the variety of weapons seized from a dhow in the Middle East by sailors aboard the warship Forrest Sherman. (U.S. Central Command)
A U.S. Central Command press release showcases the variety of weapons seized from a dhow in the Middle East by sailors aboard the warship Forrest Sherman. (U.S. Central Command)

CENTCOM laid out the weapons seized by Forrest Sherman and noted that they included “anti-tank missiles, sections of land-attack cruise missiles, sections of an anti-ship cruise missile, surface-to-air missiles, high-explosive warheads, blasting caps, unmanned aerial system components, and various electronic devices,” according to a command release last year.

“One of the things left over was a rusted AK-47,” Parlatore said.

“(Azzarello) said, ‘let’s make it into a plaque. Let’s (de-militarize) it and mount it. Put it up on the ship, boost morale.’”

But a DoD procedure exists when a commander wants to do that, and Parlatore said it was not something that surface warfare officers are frequently trained on.

“He didn’t follow the procedure,” Parlatore said.

Azzarello was relieved of command of the guided-missile destroyer Wednesday morning by Carrier Strike Group 8 commander Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl.

Parlatore said Azzarello was slated to hand the ship’s helm over to his successor at a change of command ceremony next week.

Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 1 drive their 34-foot Dauntless class patrol boat to rendezvous with the guided-missile destroyer Forrest Sherman on Nov. 17, 2019, in the Gulf of Tadjoura. Forrest Sherman recently interdicted what officials believe is a cache of smuggled missile components that originated in Iran. (Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma/Navy)
Sailors assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron 1 drive their 34-foot Dauntless class patrol boat to rendezvous with the guided-missile destroyer Forrest Sherman on Nov. 17, 2019, in the Gulf of Tadjoura. Forrest Sherman recently interdicted what officials believe is a cache of smuggled missile components that originated in Iran. (Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Kenji Shiroma/Navy)

Azzarello’s failure to follow the regs prompted an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, according to Parlatore.

“It was a pretty simple investigation,” Parlatore said. “When they asked him, he said, ‘yeah, here it is.’ He gave it to them.”

It remains unclear whether Azzarello will face further administrative discipline or criminal charges, the attorney said.

Azzarello had commanded Forrest Sherman since September 2019, according to his service record.

“We weren’t expecting this to happen today,” Parlatore said. “He did everything that he could to get the crew ready and to get out there and do the job. They did a fantastic job. The raid was a really big win … so for this to happen right at the end is very unfortunate.”

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