Soldiers at Patrol Base Mahawil sleep in either the
bombed-out headquarters building or "tent city," a
compound of 12-person tents. While headquarters
personnel sleep in beds, most Soldiers live in the
tents. "Tent city's the place to be," says Spc. Gerry
Denardi, a native of Branford, Conn., and an infantryman
with 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd
Infantry Brigade. "That's where us hooligans live."
Thar Allah Naval Base Offers Rats of Legend
by J.P. Lawrence, 08.25.2009
THAR ALLAH NAVAL BASE, Iraq - Are you sick and tired of
the relative comfort of your containerized housing unit?
Do you feel sanitation is overrated? Is air-conditioning
just not your "thing"?
Well, then perhaps a trip to Thar Allah Naval Base is
just what you need.
Let's take a little voyage to Thar Allah, located right
in the middle of downtown Basra and a short drive from
both the port of Umm Qasar and the amusement park, City
As part two of our series "It's Austere Here", here are
five reasons why the Soldiers of Thar Allah have it
The first thing you'll see when you enter Thar Allah is
a two-story headquarters building with broken windows
and columns with blue paint chipping off. From this base
Soldiers of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry
Regiment provide security for a military team that
trains the Iraqi army in strict accordance with the
security agreement. This building constitutes most of
the compound; in fact, the base could probably fit
inside a Wal-Mart.
You wouldn't, however, live in the headquarters
building. You would be living snuggly in tents with the
warm companionship of eight to ten other Soldiers, so
bring a fan if you can. "The generator goes out at least
four, five times every day, and that causes all our ACs
to go out, so the tents usually stay around 80, 90
degrees," said 1st Lt. Robert Munoz, a Los Cruces, N.M.,
native and infantry officer with 2nd Bn., 8th Inf. Regt.
There's trash everywhere
As you walk the grounds of the compound, you'll find all
the sights and smells of a third-world country: two
thrown-out beds lounging like stray dogs in the shade, a
dumpster with trash all around it and a sulfurous crater
festering with some sort of primordial ooze.
"Its black water that has been seeping out of the
ground," explained Munoz. "It's not too bad. You get
used to the smell. But I wouldn't recommend going to the
back of the compound if you've got a weak stomach."
If you ask him what it smells like, Munoz will reply,
"Like feces and rotting meat and spoiled vegetables."
And when you turn the corner, you will instantly agree.
The smell is just one of many reminders that you are on
a small American base in the middle Iraq's second
The Rat of Legend
For animal lovers, Thar Allah offers a veritable
menagerie of feral beasts. For example, you will see
stray mutts everywhere. They look harmless enough and
you will want to take them home, teach them tricks and
give them names like Paco and Rocky and Doug.
"They're the ones that will attack you if you get too
close," Munoz explained as he pointed to a dog
underneath the truck. "They sleep everywhere."
"There's another one underneath the truck over there,"
For cat lovers, Thar Allah is home to a roving gang of
stray cats; including one the Soldiers call Mr.
Whiskers. And for you rat lovers, Thar Allah just may be
your promised land.
"There's rats too," Munoz said. "There's a family of
rats living in my rucksack."
"The rats are about the size of a small rhinoceros
sometimes," Spc. James Culver joked ... maybe.
"Besides Soldiers, I think their main diet consists of
dogs and feces," said Culver, a Swartz Creek, Mich.
native and infantryman with Co. A, 2nd Bn., 8th Inf.
Regt. "If you snuggle with them at night they tend to
leave you alone during the day."
Notable among the wildlife is the "Rat of Legend," a
rarely seen but apparently monstrous creature known to
frequent Thar Allah. A first sighting of the Rat of
Legend in its natural surroundings is sure to be a
"It's kind of like Big Foot sightings," said Munoz. "We
see it. It's about the size of a small dog. Nobody's
taken any pictures of it, but everybody knows it's
running around here. It's only a matter of time."
"If you see it, it won't get scared of you. It will
stare you down," said Pvt. Matthew Neel, an infantryman
and resident wildlife expert of Co. A, 2nd Bn., 8th Inf.
"We're thinking of setting up a fire watch," said Munoz,
who has killed five rats in the past week. "A guy with
night vision goggles and a pistol to protect us in the
middle of the night."
"You think we're joking," said Neel, a Stanward, Wash.,
native. "But we're not."
There's a definite lack of things to do
A Soldier's life at Thar Allah runs the gamut from
physical training to sleeping to working to sleeping.
"We get up around 4 a.m. to check on the generators,
then around 10 a.m. I work, and then usually it gets too
hot at that time to do much of anything, so most of our
guys try to sleep during the hottest part of the day,"
said Munoz. "Come sundown we start working out again,
because there's not much to do except PT."
When American operations transitioned to an advise and
assist role, June 30, units all over Iraq found they had
time to kill - time often filled with hours in the gym.
Thar Allah does have a gym, in the loosest of terms;
half of the equipment was built from old bunk parts and
the other half is falling apart.
"We're missing like half the dumbbells and the barbell
just broke the other day," Munoz said.
The good news, if you like basketball, is Thar Allah
boasts a basketball hoop. The hoop presides over a
sandy, rocky court and on the plywood backboard, "NBA"
is written, sloppily, in felt pen.
The bad news, if you don't like basketball, is
basketball is pretty much the only game in town if you
want cardiovascular exercise. It's tough to run in the
cramped compound, Munoz said, and running at the nearby
Iraqi army track is discouraged due to sniper concerns.
"We tried running around the compound, but when they
start cooking, the smell is so bad; plus, the stray dogs
chase you," Munoz said. "We're limited in the amount of
PT you can do."
Portable latrines and birdbath showers
If you desire to use the bathroom in Thar Allah, be
advised running water for toilets has not yet been
installed. Instead, Thar Allah offers Soldiers the
finest in outhouse technology.
"We just got the porta-johns out back," said Culver. "If
you go, you got to let the sentry know in case you pass
out in the porta-johns because it's ridiculously hot."
"I usually wait until night," Culver added.
If you need to wash up after using the bathroom,
Soldiers are allowed two bottles of water a day for
showering and one bottle of water for hygiene. To
conserve water, Soldiers have come up with tricks,
"You kind of rinse your whole body up and soap up and
then dump the rest on and hope you washed the suds off,"
However, if you don't want to use water bottles, most
Soldiers use the showers recently installed at Thar
Allah. The showers allow Soldiers to wash like human
beings, but like most things in Thar Allah, they come
with a catch.
"The only problem right now is that the showers don't
really drain out at all," said Culver. "So it's kind of
like taking a bird bath after a while, but it's better
than water bottles."
So come visit Thar Allah, "God's revenge." While living
conditions are somewhat austere, the Soldiers there seem
to like it. "We don't really have it rough," Culver
said. "We got an Xbox, computers and we can Facebook our
honeys and what-not."
"Being the colorful group of people that I get to live
with here, we probably could have lived in a hole in the
ground and made it entertaining," Neel said. "We got a
good group of guys out here, so it doesn't matter how
stupid things get."
"This is my number two vacation spot," said Culver,
"next to a Somalian pirate ship."
Patrol Base Mahawil Offers the Unflushable Toilet
by J.P. Lawrence, 08.26.2009
PATROL BASE MAHAWIL, Iraq - There are places in the
world that astound you with their beauty: the soaring
and ragged vistas of the Grand Canyon in Colorado, the
silkily elegant minarets and dome of the Taj Mahal of
India, the teeming cobalt zoo that is the Great Barrier
Reef of Australia. Patrol Base Mahawil is not one of
them. PB Mahawil is what realtors would call a "handyman
special." It is rustic, in the middle of nowhere and
free of luxuries. It is also a fitting home for Soldiers
of 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Infantry
We give you five reasons the Soldiers at PB Mahawil have
1. You're in the middle of the desert - The first thing
you'll notice about PB Mahawil is how isolated it is
from civilization. Swaths of arid wasteland encircle the
base like a moat, leaving the base an island in a sea of
dust. As you get off the helicopter, you'll be greeted
by sight of the wire, beyond which you leave the safety
of the base and enter the desert. And yes, in the
desert, it's hot and dry and the sun seems angry
"The sun," said Spc. Gerry Denardi, an infantryman with
2nd Bn. 28th Inf. Regt., "is like lemon juice on a
As you exit the helipad, you'll see the one tree on the
base to your right and a shooting range to your left,
where you can often hear the echoes of gunfire. This is
an infantry base, after all.
2. Tents covered in cheese - As a guest, you can stay in
the recently constructed plywood guest quarters or in
the bombed-out company headquarters. However, if you
really want to experience everything Mahawil has to
offer, be sure to book a room in one of the tents where
the Spartans live.
"Tent city's the place to be," said Denardi, a native of
Branford, Conn. "That's where us hooligans live."
The tents come in two flavors: foamed and unfoamed. The
foamed tents have insulation and, because of this, their
walls are the color and shape of coagulated nacho cheese
left out in the sun and then forgotten. The foam helps
keep the room cool, while the non-foamed tents sit in
the heat with nothing to protect them but a lustrous
golden patina of silt-like dust. While the unfoamed
tents are more aesthetically pleasing, you want the foam
tents; it's better to live in a comfortable room with
cheese on the walls than to sleep in an oven covered in
"Before, when it was just the tents, there was nothing
keeping the air conditioning in there," Denardi said.
"It would be hot as hell all day long, but since we got
that foam stuff there, it's relatively cool."
3. The gym makes you do math - If you've had enough
relaxation in the cool tents, you can go to the
so-called prison-yard gym, where there are always
Soldiers huffing and puffing while lifting or pushing or
pulling exercise equipment. Much of the equipment was
either inherited or scavenged, which is commendable, but
creates situations requiring much more math than one is
accustomed to at a gym.
"We have some of those European weights, but we'll have
one of them, and then we'll try to add on, like five of
these [non-metric] plates," said Denardi.
The total amount of these weights, combined with the
sheer number of times they are used, means the lifespan
of a bar is fleeting and Soldiers often have to rebuild
or replace them.
"Our mechanics welded some, but we're bar killers. We
use them three or four times and the thing will break,"
said Denardi. "And even our one good bar, as you can
see, is bent."
4. Latrine duty - If, after your workout, you need to
use the bathroom, you can continue your workout in the
recently installed indoor bathrooms.
"They're amazing if you want exercise," Denardi said.
"You use the bathroom; if it doesn't go down [and it
probably won't], fill the bucket up and then you pour it
down the toilet."
When you walk in the bathroom, you'll notice it smells
like any other public bathroom, only more so. If you
look to your left, you'll see an unlucky Soldier sitting
in the stink and reading a book.
"His amazing job here is, when he's not pulling tower
guard, to sign a person into a toilet and to make sure
that the toilet flushes," Denardi explained.
"It's a long six hours," said the Soldier on toilet
duty, Spc. Jason Surovcik, an infantryman with 2nd Bn.
28th Inf. Regt., and a native of Long Pond, Pa.
All in all, according to Denardi, making sure people
flush is a better job than burning what people flush,
which is what Soldiers did before they received indoor
plumbing. In fact, as you leave the bathroom, you can
see the burning bins where Soldiers would place the
bathroom's contents before burning.
5. Pee tubes and combat showers - Next to the burn bins,
you can see four plastic pipes sticking out of the
ground. This is where Soldiers pee. The tubes go to a
tank in the ground and the tubes are stained and of
"Some guys in the company are relatively short, and for
a while there was this one kid, Pvt. Cox, he was very
short, and we actually had a stool for him so he could
stand on it and reach inside the pee tube," Denardi
said. "But someone stole his little stool and he
couldn't pee. So we cut some of the tubes so he could
reach up there."
You can take a normal shower at the headquarters area,
but you need to take a combat shower in tent city to get
the true Mahawil experience. Be dirty, be prepared and
be quick, because all you get is a wooden box with a
hose, a shower curtain and 30 seconds of water.
"We have to take combat showers," Denardi said. "We only
get so much water."
Aside from the 30-second rule, Soldiers have had to
learn other tricks to maximize their shower.
"You don't use the nozzles or else you're going to break
it," Denardi said. "You see those emergency valves down
there? Those are actually your nozzles. The trick is,
don't use the one on the left or you'll burn yourself to
death. The one on the right's cold, but it's usually hot
anyway. So you just turn it on, get a little bit wet,
cover yourself in soap real quick, turn back on, let it
rinse off real quick, and if you don't get it in 30
seconds you're stuck with soap on your body."
PB Mahawil is not going on anyone's "most beautiful
places to visit" list. But for the Soldiers of the 2nd
Bn. 28th Inf. Regt. it is a fitting home for a bunch of
Spartans. The Spartans, many of whom lived in nearby
Forward Operating Base Kalsu, prefer PB Mahawil, despite
the luxuries of the bigger base.
"Kalsu is the Ritz," Denardi said. "You got your rooms
with air conditioning, internet, TV in the rooms; you've
got four meals a day, gym, Pizza Hut and all that stuff.
All we have is breakfast and dinner and half the time
you're not going to like it. We live out of tents. We
live out of our duffel bags. Thank God we just put this
foam stuff on our tents; our tents were above a hundred
degrees the whole day, and that was with the air
"But we would choose this place over Kalsu any day,"
Denardi added. "It's a little Soldier thing that we all
have inside of us. We like living in the bad areas."
"It's a sense of mission," said Mitchell. "Every Soldier
wants to have a mission and they want to have a sense of
purpose. People say our patrol base is bare or it has
minimum necessities or it's austere. We like it here,
Another experience you'll have at Thar Allah Naval Base
is seeing a dumpster with trash all around it and a
sulfurous crater festering with some sort of primordial
ooze. "It's black water that has been seeping out of the
ground," explained 1st Lt. Robert Munoz, a Los Cruces,
N.M. native and infantryman with Company A, 2nd
Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment. "It's not too bad. You
get used to the smell. But I wouldn't recommend going to
the back of the compound if you've got a weak stomach."
you walk around Thar Allah Naval Base, you'll find many
reminders that you are on a small American base in the
middle of a large Iraqi city - beds thrown outside the
kitchen, trash and tires everywhere and the smell of raw
Before the advent of running water, Soldiers at Thar
Allah Naval Base were allowed to take two bottles of
water a day for showering and one bottle of water for
hygiene. "You kind of rinse your whole body up and soap
up and then dump the rest on and hope you washed the
suds off," said Spc. James Culver, a Swartz Creek, Mich.
native and infantryman with Company A, 2nd Battalion,
8th Infantry Regiment.
Soldiers at Patrol Base Mahawil have to take combat
showers, showers lasting less than 30 seconds, in order
to conserve water. "You just turn it on, get a little
bit wet, cover yourself in soap real quick, turn back
on, let it rinse off real quick, and if you don't get it
in 30 seconds, you're stuck with soap on your body,"
says Spc. Gerry Denardi, a native of Branford, Conn.,
and an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry
Regiment, 172nd Infantry Brigade.
Soldiers at Patrol Base Mahawil once had to burn their
bathroom waste in bins, but with the introduction of
"indoor" plumbing, they now make use of pee tubes, which
are four plastic pipes sticking out of the ground. The
tubes go to a tank in the ground and the tubes are
stained and of varying heights.