JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq - Castle Heights, dining facility three, took the title of best DFAC at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, in the sixth annual Thanksgiving Day competition, part of a joint forces food event Nov. 26 at JBB.

Five dining facilities at JBB competed against one another, evaluated on decoration, menu, theme and culinary presentation. They were judged by food service representatives from both the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) and the 332nd Expeditionary Force Support Squadron, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mark Sutton, food service technician with the 13th ESC.

Second place was taken by Desert Inn, DFAC four, and in third place was Mirage, DFAC two, said Sutton, a Lebanon, Ind., native.

It takes skill to create the sculptures and decorations used in the comptetition, said Sutton. It is the aesthetic arrangement they evaluate, he said.

Sutton said the DFAC workers used limited materials to make the works of art. It is a huge undertaking, and the DFACs planned for two months in preparation, he said.

Sgt. 1st Class Carlos Bates, noncommissioned officer in charge of Castle Heights with the 50th Multi-Road Bridge Company, 37th Engineers Battalion, said the preparation and planning started in August. Service members worked with their civilian contractor counterparts, dedicating long hours to the sculptures decorating the DFAC, he said.

"A lot of these guys are not school trained, a lot of them did it free hand," said Bates, an Atlanta native. "Like the watermelon carvings; they just looked at a picture and carved it themselves."

Matthew Manoj, Castle Heights manager and a Serka contractor, did much of the planning.

"I got ideas, I'd explain it to the guys, and I have some talented artists who just make it happen," said Manoj, a Kerala, India, native.

Manoj said he is proud of the effort his team put into the event, Castle Heights' last as it is slated to close at the end of November. This motivated the staff to work harder in the competition, he said.

"All the DFACs did an outstanding job," said Sutton. "They're all winners, but there's some that place a little higher than others. It was a letdown when I went back to another dining facility to present them with second place."

The competition boosted the morale of the troops and the contractors in the spirit of Thanksgiving, said Sutton. He said they hoped to make everyone serving in Iraq feel a little more at home.

As Castle Heights prepares to close its doors, it claimed one last trophy.

"It was a bittersweet victory," said Bates.