A morale-boosting plaque cost USS Forrest Sherman’s captain his post, attorney says

By DAVE RESS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 28, 2021

(Tribune News Service) — A rusting AK-47 left over after USS Forrest Sherman’s seizure of Iranian-made missiles and other weapons led to the commander losing his job about one week early.

Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was relieved of his post on the Norfolk-based destroyer this week.

Officially, the reason was a lack of confidence in his ability to command, but his attorney says the issue was Azzarello’s idea that the seized assault rifle could be used in a plaque to commemorate the ship’s November 2019 seizure of a boat-load of weapons headed for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

That seizure from a sailing vessel in the Arabian Sea included 21 “Dehlavieh” anti-tank guided missiles and five near-fully assembled Iranian-designed and manufactured surface-to-air missiles.

The cache also included advanced missile components for both land-attack cruise missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as components for unmanned aerial systems, Iranian-made thermal scopes and approximately 13,000 blasting caps, a Navy tally showed.

“They had a couple of items left over, including a rusty AK-47. When one of the crew asked what they should do with it, he said let’s make a plaque,” attorney Tim Parlatore said.

Parlatore said using a seized weapon to commemorate an important naval action is legal, but Azzarello did not follow the procedure for securing permission to do so. Azzarello was due to hand over command of USS Forrest Sherman next week, Parlatore said.

“An investigation is being conducted by the command and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation, it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment,” said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh.

Azzarello enlisted in 1993 and was commissioned through the Navy’s Enlisted Commissioning Program while earning an engineering degree from Old Dominion University. He assumed command of USS Forrest Sherman immediately before its deployment in 2019, after serving as an executive officer on a cruiser.

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