Military News

Monday, December 14, 2015

Alaskan NORAD Region prepares to track Santa for 60th year

by Capt. Anastasia Wasem and Tech. Sgt. John Gordinier
Alaskan NORAD Region Public Affairs


12/14/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The list has been made and checked twice...no, we're not talking about Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and his list of who's been naughty or nice.

It's the dedicated men and women of Alaskan NORAD Region that have made the vital preparations necessary to help keep Santa safe on his journey around the world this Christmas.

The devoted men and women of ANR have ensured that Santa has received his intelligence briefing, the current weather reports, as well as safety guidance. His sleigh has been inspected by our best mechanics and the route has been reviewed for potential logistical issues.

"As Christmas Eve approaches the anticipation builds as we await Santa's arrival. Everyone in ANR and the 176th Air Defense Squadron gets excited to be a part of such a special event that brings so much joy to children," explained Tech. Sgt. Michael Wachel, 176th ADS surveillance non-commissioned officer in-charge.

All day, every day, dedicated Americans and Canadians watch the Arctic skies of North America from here in Alaska. On the rare occasion when an unidentified or suspicious aircraft nears North American airspace, F-22 jets are launched to find out who they are and better understand why they are approaching. At Christmas, ANR eagerly awaits the moment when Santa leaves the North Pole and appears on our radar screens. In some cases, our fighter pilots may even be lucky enough to see Santa during his journey. Our mission is to ensure he travels safely around Canada and the United States.

"My job is to watch all of the airspace over Alaska," said Wachel. I help make sure that every airplane or other flying object is being tracked so we know who they are and where they are going. When Santa passes through we give him special attention to help him get to all of his stops as quickly as possible. Alaska is one of his last stops on his worldwide journey and we ensure his continued safety as he heads home after a long night!"

This annual mission is known as NORAD Tracks Santa. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, including Alaskan NORAD Region, Continental  U.S. NORAD Region, and Canadian NORAD Region will play a major part in that mission - tracking Santa across the globe to ensure safe travels.

The tradition of NORAD tracking Santa dates back to Christmas of 1955.

The program began December 24, 1955, when an incorrect phone number encouraging children to call Santa on Christmas was printed in a local Sears Roebuck and Co. newspaper advertisement.

Instead of Santa, the number actually dialed the Air Operations Center at Continental Air Defense Command, NORAD's predecessor organization, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

The phone that rang that night was the top-secret crisis phone - and a call on that line meant serious trouble.

Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the commander on duty that night, was not amused, he said in a 2005 interview.

He answered with a crisp "Yes, sir?" expecting to hear Air Force Gen. Earle Partridge, the NORAD commander, giving an order.

Instead, a little boy told him what he wanted for Christmas.

Shoup was suddenly even less amused, and started looking around the AOC for whichever Airman was on the phone and trying to stifle a grin.

"I thought, 'Someone's playing a joke, and I don't stand for that,'" Shoup said in the interview. "If I see who's laughing out there, I'm going to nail him good."

But no one was laughing. The little boy on the other end of the line sensed something was amiss.

"You're not Santa," Shoup recalled him saying.

"Oh-ho-ho, yes I am," Shoup responded.

Soon, the phone was ringing constantly - and Shoup pulled some Airmen aside and told them to answer the calls and "just pretend you're Santa."

Instead of having Sears pull the ad, Shoup offered the kids something else -Airmen would check the radar for Santa's official location as he made his journey across the globe.

Every Christmas since, ANR service members have worked to identify and track Santa and report it to NORAD.

Volunteers manning the telephone lines take the calls, and answer the urgent questions of children across the globe.

Starting at 10:01 p.m. locally on Dec. 24, website visitors can watch Santa make preparations for his flight.

NORAD's "Santa Cams" will stream video on the site as Santa makes his way over various locations.

Then, at 2 a.m. locally, trackers worldwide can speak with a live phone operator to inquire as to Santa's whereabouts by dialing the toll-free number (877) Hi-NORAD ((877) 446-6723) or by sending an e-mail to noradtrackssanta@outlook.com.

Children of all ages can follow along at www.noradsanta.org, the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/noradsanta, or on Twitter using the handle @NoradSanta.

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