OSWEGO, NY – When you’re an old and chubby guy hauling zillions of dollars worth of toys and goodies on your sleigh in the dark of night with only eight tiny reindeer for protection – it’s safe to say you could use some more security.
And, if you cover the entire world in one night, you need someone that can keep up with you.
That’s where The US Air Force comes in.
On Christmas Eve, New York Air National Guardsmen and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel from the Eastern Air Defense Sector will play a key role as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa Claus and his reindeer.
“NORAD has supported Santa Claus’ Christmas Eve operations for 61 years and we are always delighted to help,” said Col. Emil Filkorn, the commander of the Eastern Air Defense Sector, known as EADS. “I can assure everyone that EADS will do everything in its power to assist Santa with his critical mission.”
EADS’ Battle Control Center will monitor Santa constantly as he travels across the eastern U.S. delivering toys and gifts. These activities are in support of the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, which leads the Santa monitoring effort.
In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States created the bi-national air defense command North American Aerospace Defense Command, which then took on the tradition of tracking Santa.
The Eastern Air Defense Sector is a North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) headquarters unit located at the Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, NY.
The Santa tracking tradition started in 1955, when a Colorado Springs, Colorado Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement encouraging local children to call Santa listed an incorrect phone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number went into to the Continental Air Defense Command’s operations hotline.
Col. Harry Shoup, the operations director, could have just hung up; demanded Sears print a correction. But instead, he had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.
Children who called were given location updates — and a tradition was born!
“Yup, that’s exactly what happened!” said Kara Shore, principal of Leighton Elementary School in Oswego. “It was very savvay on his part to do that.”
During her USAF career, the principal worked with the Canadian Forces at NORAD.
“When I was there, it was us and the Canadians that worked together. Cheyane Mountain Air Force Base is kind of the civilian name that it fell under. At Peterson Air Force Base there were many, many volunteers who did this and it still happens today. At NORAD, we were in charge of making sure the skies were clear. The calls come into the volunteers at NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center at Peterson.”
The volunteers will tell the kids that the Air Force planes and the Canadian planes fly aside Santa, to keep him safe as he is going through. He goes like 350,000 miles on Christmas Eve. They fly with him and keep radar for him
Santa calls back to NORAD and he talks to the elves. That’s how Santa knows the skies ahead are clear, the elves tell him if he’s keeping on track. Then the U.S. and Canadians call those volunteers to be sure he’s getting to every point that he needs to based on the radar.
There have been times when there are “a hundred and something thousand calls every hour” to the call center, the principal said.
“Every single hour. It’s busy. They have volunteer elves who handle it all. They have been doing it for years. Many are retired military,” she said. “It’s pretty neat. And at the Air Force base we’d have a lot of fundraisers for the kids, too.”
Santa starts at NORAD. He stops down for his high-tech pre-flight checkup as he and his slegh full of gifts are secured for takeoff. Then he is joined by some matter-anti-matter fueled warp speed F-16s.
The jets are reportedly being phased out in favor of unmanned drones. Santa, however, frowns on drones – he’s a traditional kind of jolly old elf.
“I haven’t heard of any drones following Santa. He still wants the real deal,” Shore said. “Santa has some pull with the Air Force.”
Responsible for the air defense of the eastern United States, EADS is composed of New York Air National Guardsmen from the 224th Air Defense Group, a Canadian Forces detachment, Army, Navy and Coast Guard liaison officers, and federal civilians.
EADS also has two detachments located in the National Capital Region.
The NORAD Tracks Santa website, www.noradsanta.org, launched on Dec. 1. The site features Santa’s North Pole village, a holiday countdown, games and activities.
The website is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese.
NORAD starts its Santa tracking operation at 2:01 a.m. on Dec. 24.
At 6 a.m., children and parents can call the NORAD operations floor at 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) or send an e-mail to [email protected] for live updates.
Any time on Dec. 24, Windows Phone users can ask Cortana for Santa’s location, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa.
Official NORAD Tracks Santa apps are also available in the Windows, Apple and Google Play stores, so parents and children can count down the days until Santa’s launch on their smartphones and tablets.
Tracking opportunities are also offered on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Google+.
Santa followers just need to type @noradsanta” into each search engine to get started.