By Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson, Air Force Public Affairs Agency
Prank calls were probably not prevalent in 1955. So, when the “red phone” rang at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center nestled in the Colorado Springs Rockies on Christmas Eve and a small voice on the other end asked, “Is this really Santa Claus?” Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup wasn’t quite sure what to think.
“Sorry, wrong number!” could have been his response to the unusual call, but instead he played along and made a 6-year-old girl believe in the magic of Christmas. Watch this video of Colonel Shoup telling about this precious moment that started what is now known as NORAD Tracks Santa.
The U.S. and Canada-partnered bi-national air defense command took on the tradition of tracking Santa. And of course this all-volunteer spirited gesture does not take away from North American Aerospace Defense Command’s true mission to “Deter, Detect and Defend” the North American continent.
After more than 50 years, and lots of technological changes later, the now named NORAD keeps millions of Santa seekers around the world posted on his whereabouts along with his elves, the workshops and of course his nine flying reindeer.
From Face Book to Google Maps to Onstar and Twitter, this volunteer program has grown with the technologies we have today and communication companies are stepping up their game to help NORAD keep the millions of families around the world in the loop on Santa happenings. The eight-language website has a countdown and there are lots of fun games, too!
And if all else fails… volunteers from the Colorado Springs military communities of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Peterson Air Force Base, Schriever AFB and Fort Carson will be manning the telephones and e-mails 24/7 starting at 4:00 a.m. MST (6:00 a.m. EST) on Christmas Eve. The NTS toll free number is 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723) and e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Santa even swung by NORAD to get a tour of the operations hub that has put him and his flying reindeer on the map. According to a NORAD press release, he will also stop by Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base in Washington before heading to Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif.
This is all in part because of Santa’s Traveling Workshop TM, a non-profit charity, who shares “the magic and spirit of Christmas with children of our Armed Forces and their families nationwide.”
Rest assured good ol’ St. Nick will soon head back to the North Pole to prep for his special Christmas Eve journey.