The Navy has fired Cmdr. Frank Azzarello as commanding officer of the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman for allegedly trying to turn a captured AK-47 into a plaque for the entire ship, according to his attorney Timothy Parlatore.
On Nov. 25, 2019, the USS Forrest Sherman discovered “advanced missile components” and other weapons believed to be from Iran when it stopped a small boat headed for Yemen, defense officials said at the time. One unnamed official told Reuters that it was believed the weapons were intended to arm Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Azzarello decided to have one of the AK-47’s seized from the boat demilitarized and turned into a plaque to be displayed on the ship — not a personal trophy, Parlatore said on Thursday.
While turning the captured weapon into a plaque is legal, Azzarello was not familiar with the Defense Department procedures about how to do so, said Parlatore, who attended Surface Warfare Officers School with Azzarello when he was in the Navy.
Azzarello made no effort to hide the captured AK-47 when Navy investigators asked him about his plans to have it turned into a plaque, Parlatore said.
“It was in progress and NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] came and asked him about it,” Parlatore said. “Because he didn’t think he had done anything wrong, he immediately cooperated with them and said: Yeah, sure; this is exactly what we’re doing. Here it is. NCIS asked for it; he gave it to them; and they took it.”
Parlatore also noted that Azzarello was relieved of command shortly before a scheduled change of command next week, adding: “There really wasn’t a necessity to do this right now, in my opinion.”
A spokeswoman for 2nd Fleet declined to confirm that Azzarello was fired over the captured AK-47 plaque or provide any other information about why he was relieved of command.
“Cmdr. Azzarello was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command,” Cmdr. Ashley Hockycko wrote in an email. “An investigation is being conducted by the command and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). It would be inappropriate to discuss any details until completion of an ongoing investigation.”
Hockycko also declined to say whether Azzarello has been charged with a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or disciplined administratively.
Parlatore famously represented Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher, who was found not guilty of killing a wounded ISIS fighter in 2017. Former President Donald Trump personally intervened in the Gallagher case.
On Dec. 24, 2019, Azzarello spoke to Trump during the former president’s video teleconference with service members.
But Parlatore said his involvement in this case has nothing to do with either Gallagher or Trump.
“When he was facing this, a mutual friend put us in touch,” Parlatore said. “This is something that is actually a lot closer to home for me because this is the job that I used to do in the Navy: surface warfare.”
Featured image: Cmdr. Frank Azzarello at the April 12, 2019 change of command for the Surface Warfare Officer School Basic Division Officer Course and of the Navigation Schools in Norfolk, Virginia. (Facebook.)