BAGHDAD — Sgt. Martin Contreras dressed jollily but was ready to kill.
The 23-year-old soldier from San Diego spent Friday morning preparing for a mission to deliver the brigade’s deputy commander, Lt. Col. Darron Wright, to visit troops at two joint security stations west of the city.
Contreras pinned a stuffed reindeer just above his M9 pistol on his bulletproof vest and wore a Santa hat. But he and a younger soldier spent some pre-mission downtime discussing about when and how to fire during a mission.
“If Rudolph has to come off,” he said, patting the stuffed animal, “it’s going to be a bad day.”
Across the base, Santa hats seemed to replace many soldiers’ soft caps. Wright, about as proud of a Texan as one can find, wore a Santa hat emblazoned with the burnt orange logo of the Texas Longhorns and posed for photos flashing the school’s trademark “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signal.
But troops from the brigade’s 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment topped them all. One soldier wore a full Santa outfit underneath his battle kit. And when his Stryker drove through Iraqi police and Iraqi army checkpoints, they blared Christmas carols from the loudspeaker.
“Now those guys,” Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Huggins said, “are really in the Christmas spirit.”