Warship CO, fired for taking a trophy AK-47, described as “Holly Graf-like” in hostile command climate

| June 23, 2021

Commander Frank Azzarello

We talked about Commander Azzarello being relieved of command of USS Forrest Sherman here. He was relieved for taking a seized AK-47 from a massive cache of weapons the ship interdicted in the Persian Gulf region. The weapon he took was to be made into a trophy and placed aboard ship. The skipper was rightly proud of his men and women for intercepting weaponry suspected of being from Iran and headed to Houthi rebels in Yemen. As AW1Ed called it at the time, “This decision, as it reads, seems a bit capricious for what really is a process error.” Turns out there’s more to the story.

From Navy Times;

The commanding officer of the U.S. warship Forrest Sherman was fired in January, ostensibly for taking home a seized enemy rifle that he intended to turn into a trophy for his ship’s wardroom. But that’s far from the whole story regarding what went down aboard the guided-missile destroyer under the leadership of Cmdr. Frank Azzarello.

That old AK-47 was part of a massive cache of weaponry that Azzarello’s sailors seized from a dhow in the Middle East in late 2019.

U.S. Central Command said the materiel was believed to be from Iran and headed for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

It was a crowning achievement for Azzarello, who officials say took command of the ship nine days before its September 2019 deployment and whose performance evaluation in the spring of last year predicted he would “EXCEL IN MAJOR COMMAND!”

But behind the CENTCOM press releases, Azzarello’s rising star and Forrest Sherman’s can-do mission capability, the officer had created “a command climate of harassment and fear” aboard the guided-missile destroyer, according to a command investigation obtained by Navy Times.

The first endorsement of the Destroyer Squadron 28 investigation came on Jan. 26, a day before Azzarello was fired.

It found that Azzarello belittled some officers, called others names, mocked the voices of female members and overused letters of instruction with junior officers, allegedly in the name of booting underperformers off his ship.

“I have seen officers called idiots, retarded or useless wastes,” one anonymous crew member wrote in a command climate survey cited in the investigation.

“Get your hands out of your pockets when you speak to me, you son of a bitch,” one officer recounted Azzarello saying, according to the investigation.

A junior officer who Azzarello detached for cause in 2020 told investigators that Azzarello “gives SWOs a bad name,” and that he was “Holly Graf-like,” a reference to a warship captain who was fired in 2010 for abusive behavior.

But while some Forrest Sherman members described a tyrannical state of affairs under Azzarello, his civilian attorney, Timothy Parlatore, said Monday that the case against his client isn’t as clear-cut as the investigation would suggest.

“Yeah, he used rough language,” said Parlatore, a former naval officer who said he and Azzarello attended SWO school together in the early 2000s. “Nothing any rougher than when I was a junior officer, that my commanding officer used with us, or that anybody else has used in the history of the United States Navy.”

The enemy-gun-turned-wannabe-war trophy, however, is not in dispute.

A separate Naval Criminal Investigative Service probe determined that Azzarello did take home the weapon with the aim of turning it into a war trophy for his ship but failed to follow military guidelines for such an endeavor, Parlatore said.

“When (NCIS agents) found it in his garage, it was sitting next to the piece of wood he had polished up to mount it,” Parlatore said.

“My goal of turning it into a plaque is something that is permissible if I had followed the proper procedures and regulations,” Azzarello later said in a statement at his disciplinary hearing in April. “It was a poor decision that I truly regret, but again my intent was to only commemorate a difficult deployment and difficult year for my ship.”

But at the same non-judicial punishment hearing, Azzarello was defiant in response to the conduct unbecoming an officer charge he faced for the language he used with his subordinates.

Much more at the source. Azzarello should know better than to use the type of disparaging language typically reserved for the sitting Vice President. Now clap you stupid bastards.

Thanks to Jeff LPH 3 for sending this update in.

Category: "The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves", Dick Stepping, Guest Link, GWOT, Navy

Comments (20)

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  1. Roh-Dog says:

    Seems like the Captain said what was on his mind. That’s a crime now.
    What I wouldn’t give to read the counter-narrative Command Climate Surveys from the actual Sailors.
    Can’t have alphas in charge anymore as hurt feelings are more important than mission readiness.
    Can I requisition some pearls to clutch that a O5 may or may not have had possession of an AK?

  2. John Seabee says:

    He should have taken one of the Dragunov SVD-63.

    • SEAL Team TWO says:

      They were probably cheap knock-offs, not “authentic” SVDs. You can buy all the parts to build one better than those they seized on Gunbroker.

  3. SFC D says:

    He was ok until somebody tossed his palm tree over the side.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s good to be the King! /sarc

  5. 26Limabeans says:

    It was probably a Polytech anyway.

  6. KoB says:

    Hey! Whata ya expect? This man was in Command of a ship named USS Forrest (a hard charging “get thar furstest with the mostest” Warrior) Sherman (a known pyromaniac). He drove his men hard to be FIRST (ht 2 Roh-Dog) and kept a fire lit under them. 😀 I wouldn’t have expected any less from him.

    I wasn’t there and I’m not a JAG (tho, again, would love to serve “under LT Col Mac) but, IMHO, they need to give this Warrior another piece of gedunk bling for his dress whites and put him in Command of a Floating Artillery Platform that doesn’t have as many wussies on it. Oh, and yeah…mount that trophy AK on the bridge of USS Forrest Sherman.

    • SEAL Team TWO says:

      “The furstest with the mostest…” is a myth. Nathan Bedford Forrest never spoke in those terms/dialects. He was very succinct.

  7. Martinjmpr says:

    The thing with the gun was dumb but there is no indication that he actually intended to do anything with the AK except exactly what he said he was going to do, i.e. use it as a trophy to mark the ship’s achievement, not unlike the Iraqi or Soviet armored vehicles I see used as trophies on Army posts since the first Gulf War. Appropriate punishment for that should be a slap on the pee pee for not following proper procedures.

    As far as the ‘command climate’ stuff, I have mixed feelings on this.

    On the one hand, I agree with those who say that a ship’s captain is SUPPOSED to be a hard-charging A-type personality who gets shit done and that if someone gets his or her feelers hurt by getting yelled at, then maybe they should be a hug therapist or a “life coach” instead of a Naval officer. When people’s lives and the mission of the US military is at stake, preserving ‘feelings and self esteem’ has to take a back seat to, you know, accomplishing the mission.

    On the flip side, just because someone wears eagles or oak leaves on their collar doesn’t entitle them to belittle or denigrate their subordinates. As a HQ type (intel), I’ve seen lots of clashing egos in the O-gang and it doesn’t really benefit anybody.

    And finally, in this day and age when everything is on YouTube and Twitter, it’s pretty clueless for a commander to think he can treat his subordinates like crap and for it not to get out to the greater world. Like it or not, this is the world we live in and the commanders had better understand it, for their own benefit as well as the military’s.

  8. Poetrooper says:

    Ol’ Poe just can’t help but wonder what kind of junior officers we have nowadays who think it’s permissible to address your commanding officer (or any other superior officer) with your hands in your pockets?

  9. QMC says:

    My first ship’s captain makes this guy look like a sweet old church lady.

    Course’ old Mad Freddy never had to worry about Twitter, Facebook, or any of the other Social Media delights of such 20 years ago.

  10. Slow Joe says:

    Command Climate Surveys are a joke. Let’s ask the guys we are chartering out of the army what they think of their commanding officer and their unit.

  11. Messkit says:

    Lemme see if this old Army guy can get this straight:

    A Sailor, a swabby, a Naval gazer, a deck ape, a squid, a deck jockey, a member of the Village People back-up singers, a cracker jack, a US Marine dance partner…….


    I’m still not getting it.

  12. ChipNASA says:

    Hmmm, I’ll leave this to you Squids.

    I can’t say the Military is a little more pussified than it used to be but what the fuck, someone in command acted like an asshole??
    Where’s the TAH pearl basket. I need to clutch something