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Lawyer: Destroyer CO Removed for Making Plaque from Seized Weapon  

The guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) transits the Gulf of Tadjoura on Nov. 17, 2019. Forrest Sherman is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of naval operations to ensure maritime stability in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the Western Indian Ocean and three strategic choke points. US Navy photo.

This post has been updated to include links to U.S. law and DoD policy on captured weapons.

The commander of a guided-missile destroyer was relieved of command after attempting to make a morale-boosting plaque from a captured weapon for his crew to celebrate the 2019 interdiction of an Iranian weapons shipment, an attorney representing the commander told USNI News on Wednesday.

Cmdr. Frank Azzarello was the commander of USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98) when the destroyer and a Coast Guard boarding team interdicted an unmarked dhow in the North Arabian Sea on Nov. 25, 2019, Azzarello’s attorney Tim Parlatore told USNI News on Wednesday.

The U.S. crews discovered a cache of weapons and missile components that Pentagon officials said at the time were believed to be headed for Yemen to supply Houthi forces.

“An initial investigation indicates that these advanced missile components are of Iranian origin,” Defense Department spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said at the time.

After the successful seizure of the weapons, Azzarello sought to commemorate the crew’s mission by creating a plaque with a demilitarized AK-47 seized in the raid, Parlatore said.

In a statement, the Navy says the relief is due to a loss of confidence in command by Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, who commands Carrier Strike Group Eight. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic, will assume duties as commanding officer.

“Cmdr. Azzarello was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command. It would be inappropriate to discuss any details until completion of ongoing investigation being conducted by the command and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service,” U.S. 2nd Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Marycate Walsh said in a statement to USNI News on Wednesday.

American troops are subject to very specific rules in claiming so-called war trophies, as outlined in the U.S. code and DoD and Navy instructions. Claiming a seized weapon as a trophy is not necessarily illegal but must correspond to the guidelines laid out in federal law and by the Pentagon.

While ground forces are routinely briefed before entering conflict zones, the crew of a warship would not receive the same training, Parlatore said.

The following is the complete statement from U.S. 2nd fleet.

NORFOLK – Rear Adm. Ryan Scholl, commander, Carrier Strike Group EIGHT (CSG-8), relieved the commanding officer of USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98), Cmdr. Frank Azzarello, Jan. 27, due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command.

Azzarello had served as the commanding officer of Forrest Sherman since Sept. 2019. Cmdr. Greg Page, assigned to Afloat Training Group Atlantic (ATGLANT), will assume duties as commanding officer.

Azzarello has been temporarily reassigned to the staff of Naval Surface Force Atlantic.

Categories: News & Analysis, Surface Forces, U.S. Navy
Sam LaGrone

About Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.