Thursday, December 23, 2010

Airmen ready to track Santa

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- On Christmas Eve, members of the 601st Air and Space Operations Center will track Santa on part of his journey to deliver toys to children around the world.

In conjunction with the North American Aerospace Defense Command's 'NORAD Track Santa' program, AOC volunteers will monitor jolly ol' Saint Nick as he makes stops across the globe.

"This Christmas Eve will mark the 55th consecutive year that the men and women of NORAD have tracked Santa," said Col. Randy Spear, 601st AOC commander. "Tracking Santa is part of our history, and (we're) proud to continue this tradition in 2010."

The tradition of tracking Santa started in 1955, when a call was made on Christmas Eve to the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., from a little girl asking to speak to Santa Claus.

A local newspaper published an advertisement inviting children to call Santa Claus but accidently printed the wrong number. Instead of getting Santa, the little girl spoke to Col. Harry Shoup, the senior officer on duty at the command center. Colonel Shoup received numerous calls that night, but rather than hanging up, he instructed all of his operators to find the location of Santa Claus and report it to every child who phoned in that night. Though Colonel Shoup died in March 2009 at the age of 91, his tradition of tracking Santa lives on.

When CONAD became NORAD in 1958, the tradition of tracking Santa transferred to the new command. NORAD is the bi-national military organization responsible for the aerospace and maritime defense of the United States and Canada.

"My family and I have volunteered and worked three years on the 'NORAD Tracks Santa' call-in line," said Maj. Jeff Pozen, 601st AOC judge advocate officer. "It was a great experience for us and it's awesome to be part of such a rewarding program."

Each year nearly 1,200 volunteers selflessly give their time to the NORAD Tracks Santa program by taking hundreds of thousands phone calls and email from families around the world. Santa trackers at the toll-free NORAD Tracks Santa hotline, 1-877-HI-NORAD, will begin answering phone calls and responding to email at 2 a.m. MST Dec. 24 and will continue until 3 a.m. MST Dec. 25.

"Along with the many volunteers at NORAD answering phone calls and email, we also have four high-tech systems to monitor Santa on his journey around the world Christmas Eve," Colonel Spear said. "As Santa enters continental U.S. airspace, he will be escorted by F-15 (Eagles) or F-16 (Fighting Falcons). During the rest of his journey we will track Santa through radar, satellites and Santa Cams."

As Santa departs the North Pole on Christmas Eve, NORAD operators monitor a radar system consisting of 47 installations strung across the northern border of North America that indicates his position. Once Santa is on radar, satellites with infrared sensors are used to detect Rudolph's glowing nose.

The last tracking system used by NORAD to track Santa is the Santa Cam network. High-speed digital cameras are placed throughout the world to capture images of Santa and his reindeer on Christmas Eve. NORAD operators only use these cameras once a year.

Join the NORAD volunteers this holiday season as they track Santa around the world on Christmas Eve at the NORAD Tracks Santa website,

The NORAD Tracks Santa website features holiday games and activities that change daily and is available in seven languages: English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and Chinese. On Christmas Eve, the website will stream videos captured by NORAD "Santa Cams," and will have up-to-the-minute updates of Santa's location on Google Maps and Google Earth.