JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - While Joint Base Balad is both an Army and Air Force installation, there are few, if any, truly joint operations here where Soldiers and Airmen work directly hand-in-hand.

That all changed when the first dining facility in the Iraqi Theater staffed by both Soldiers and Airmen began daily operation this month.

The 72,000 square foot Mirage Dining Facility, commonly known as DFAC 2, opened last month. Currently it serves 6,500 meals a day and when it's running at capacity will be able to serve more than 18,000 meals every day. The facility goes through about $1.7 million worth of groceries every week.

"With this super-sized dining facility we foresee being able to easily serve 6,000 meals per three-hour meal period, even though our LCD flat screens do make it hard for some diners to leave," said Master Sgt. Tilwanja Lucas, manager, Dining Facility 2, Sustainment Services Flight, 332nd Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.

The sixteen Airmen and nine Soldiers who make up the contracting officer technical representative team help each other to see the bigger picture.

"We're very glad to have the opportunity to pull a joint operation," said Senior Master Sgt. Carl W. Loveless, superintendent, SSF, 332nd EFSS, 332nd AEW.

"The Soldiers are a stellar team; they bring a lot of food service expertise to the table," he said.

For many of the Soldiers and Airmen, this is the first time they have worked in a joint environment. They are able to solve problems more efficiently and assist each other when dealing with inter-services issues.

"It's interesting to work with the Air Force for the first time," said Sgt. 1st Class Richard L. Grays, assistant manager, DFAC 2, 72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion.

"It's a great opportunity," he said. "We can mesh a lot of the experience that we have and our guys can learn a lot about the customs and courtesies of the Air Force."

The Soldiers and Airmen provide oversight for the third-country-national staff. They assist in every step of the process, from food preparation, to serving, to clean-up. The service members ensure every task is done to standard so as to best serve the consumer.

"The toughest thing our guys have to deal with is the language barrier with the workers," said Grays, "but it's a great facility and we're getting around these minor hurdles so we can serve the Soldier."

The previous location of Dining Facility 2 was closed due to force protection issues and Dining Facility 3 is slated to be closed Aug. 31 for the same reasons.

"The mortar shielded structure provides better protection for the warfighters than the previous location which required evacuation to the bunkers," said Lucas.

The new DFAC 2 will serve as the consolidated food service center for all service members who previously dined at DFAC 3.

A shuttle will run from Housing Area 7 to DFAC 2 during meal times beginning Aug. 31.