Military tracks storybook flight of St. Nick for 60th year
Anchorage, Alaska — Santa Claus is coming to town, and for the 60th consecutive year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command will continue its tradition of telling youngsters the location of Kris Kringle on his annual storybook world tour.
The so-called Santa Tracker’s hub is at Colorado’s Peterson Air Force base, where hundreds of volunteers will be answering calls from an estimated 125,000 children around the globe looking for Santa’s whereabouts.
In places like Alaska, however, remote NORAD identification technicians who monitor computer screens 24 hours a day for possible air incursions also spend Christmas Eve serving as official Santa “trackers.”
The technicians in Canada and the U.S. report “sightings” of a sleigh full of toys pulled by flying reindeer, said Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier, an Alaska NORAD spokesman.
“It’s one of the largest military community relations events we have,” Gordinier said.
How does NORAD track Santa?
A system of radar stations and satellites monitor all air traffic entering U.S. and Canadian airspace. All aircraft have a code to identify themselves. If an aircraft doesn’t have a code, Gordinier said, NORAD can scramble jets to see who it is and what they’re doing.
Luckily, Santa is good at keeping in touch with NORAD, Gordinier said.
“When he pops up, we call him Big Red One,” he said. “That’s his call sign.”
The nose on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer is a tipoff. It gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch, Gordinier said.
What is Santa’s route?
On his mythical journey, Santa generally departs the North Pole, flies to the international date line over the Pacific Ocean, then begins deliveries in island nations. He then works his way west in the Northern and Southern hemispheres.
Alaska is usually his last stop before heading home, Gordinier said.
How do children participate?
Starting at 10 p.m. Alaska time on Dec. 23, and for 23 hours covering most of Christmas Eve, children can call a toll-free number, 877-446-6723 (877-Hi-NORAD) and speak to a live phone operator about Santa’s whereabouts.
They can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NORAD has 157 telephone lines and hundreds of volunteers ready to answer calls, including first lady Michelle Obama, who takes a break from her Hawaii vacation to take forwarded calls.
NORAD also created a website, www.noradsanta.org; a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/noradsanta; and a Twitter account @NoradSanta for the program.
The sites include games, movies and music. “Santacams” stream videos from various locations.
How did NORAD get involved with tracking Santa?
A 1955 newspaper advertisement for Sears Roebuck and Co. listed a phone number for “kiddies” to call Santa Claus but got it wrong.
The number was for a crisis phone at Air Operations Center at Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD’s predecessor, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Air Force Col. Harry Shoup took a call from a child and thought he was being pranked. When he figured out he was talking to a little boy, he pretended he was Santa.
More children called. Shoop eventually instructed airmen answering the phone to offer Santa’s radar location as he crossed the globe.
That sparked the tradition that is heading into its 60th year.
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