ROME, NY – As North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Tracks Santa ramps up this year, the New York Air National Guardsmen and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel of the Eastern Air Defense Sector play a key role Dec. 24.
“NORAD has supported Santa Claus’ Christmas Eve operations for 60 years and we are always delighted to help,” said Col. Emil J. Filkorn, EADS Commander. “I can assure everyone that EADS will do everything in its power to assist Santa with his critical mission.”
EADS is a sector for the Continental NORAD Region. Like NORAD, it is a joint, bi-national military organization composed of U.S. and Canadian military forces, federal civilians and contractors.
It is located within Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, NY.
Its mission is to counter all air threats to the eastern half of the continental U.S. through vigilant detection, rapid warning and precise tactical control of NORAD forces.
The same radars, satellites and interceptors employed on December 24 are used year round to defend Canada and the United States.
IT BEGAN WITH A WRONG NUMBER
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 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!” Kara Shore, principal of Leighton Elementary School in Oswego told Oswego County Today in a December 2016 interview. “It was very savvy 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. Cheyenne 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 sometimes a 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 sleigh 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, the principal quipped.
“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.”
The NORAD Tracks Santa website,
www.noradsanta.org 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 will start 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.
Editor’s Note: According to a North Pole spokesperson, the US government shutdown will not have an impact on Santa – he’ll will make his Christmas Eve rounds on schedule.)