Mil­i­tary helps kids fol­low Santa’s fa­bled flight

‘First lady Michelle Obama tra­di­tion­ally an­swers calls’

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Chil­dren from around the world are call­ing the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand to ask where Santa is, and they’re get­ting a cheery an­swer about the myth­i­cal route. The wildly pop­u­lar NORAD Tracks Santa op­er­a­tion is on its 61st run at Peter­son Air Force Base, Colorado. Vol­un­teers are an­swer­ing phone calls and emails and post­ing up­dates about Santa’s sto­ry­book world tour on Face­book and Twit­ter. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Paul Noel said 1,500 vol­un­teers an­swered nearly 141,000 phone calls and more than 2,800 emails last year. The NORAD spokesman is quick to say his name re­ally is Noel.

Here’s a look at the Christ­mas tra­di­tion: How does it work?

Chil­dren can call a toll-free num­ber, 877-4466723 (877-Hi-NORAD), or email no­rad­track­santa@out­ to ask where Santa is on his fa­bled jour­ney. Vol­un­teers work in shifts, tak­ing the last calls at 3 am MST Christ­mas Day. The vol­un­teers sit el­bow-to-el­bow in con­fer­ence rooms at Peter­son Air Force Base, NORAD’s home, an­swer­ing phones and check­ing com­puter-gen­er­ated maps pro­jected onto big screens. First lady Michelle Obama tra­di­tion­ally an­swers calls via a re­mote hookup, but Noel said it was not yet known if she would par­tic­i­pate this year. Else­where at the Air Force base, vol­un­teers up­date NORAD’s web­site (­rad­, Face­book page (face­­rad­santa) and Twit­ter feed (@No­rad­Santa). Last year, the web­site had 22 mil­lion unique visi­tors, Noel said.

Why does NORAD ‘track’ Santa?

It started in 1955 when a Colorado Springs news­pa­per ad in­vited chil­dren to call Santa Claus but ac­ci­den­tally listed the num­ber for the hot­line at the Con­ti­nen­tal Air De­fense Com­mand, NORAD’s pre­de­ces­sor. 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, and Shoup in­structed air­men to play along. It’s now a tra­di­tion, beloved by kids and the mil­i­tary. Vol­un­teers range from gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals to en­listed men and women, who some­times re­port for tele­phone duty in mil­i­tary uni­form and a Santa hat.

What is NORAD?

The North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand is a joint US-Canada op­er­a­tion that de­fends the sky over both na­tions and mon­i­tors sea ap­proaches. It’s best known for its Cold War­era con­trol room deep in­side Cheyenne Moun­tain — now used only as a backup — and for NORAD Tracks Santa.

COLORADO: In this file photo, vol­un­teers take phone calls from chil­dren.

—AP Pho­tos

COLORADO: In this file photo, NORAD and US North­ern Com­mand (USNORTHCOM) Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Charles D. Luckey joins other vol­un­teers tak­ing phone calls from chil­dren around the world ask­ing where Santa is and when he will de­liver pre­sents to their homes, in­side a phone-in cen­ter dur­ing the an­nual NORAD Tracks Santa Op­er­a­tion, at the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand, at Peter­son Air Force Base, Colorado.

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