More than six decades after its Santa-tracking mission began, the team at North American Aerospace Defense Command still has a few new tricks to help kids keep tabs on the jolly old elf.
In addition to its annual Christmas Eve phone bank staffed by military and civilian volunteers who provide children worldwide with the latest sleigh-related intel, the NORAD project will be available via Amazon’s Alexa assistant for 2017. Users can download a “skill” for Alexa and ask the machine for regular updates on Dec. 24.
There’s also www.noradsanta.org, which went live Dec. 1 and has a new holiday-themed game daily. There’s tracking via Facebook and Twitter (@NoradSanta), and there’s the email address: email@example.com.
A LONG HISTORY
All the platforms have come on board over the decades since 1955, when the mission began after Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, boss of what was then called Continental Air Defense Command, took a phone call at his desk that was meant for a Santa Claus call-in line published in a local newspaper ad.
Over the years, the command’s tracking systems and public-relations efforts became more elaborate. Last year, more than 1,500 military and civilian volunteers in the Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, call center answered more than 150,000 phone calls (877-Hi-NORAD, or 877-446-6723) seeking Santa’s whereabouts.
“It’s become a family tradition,” said Navy Capt. Scott Miller, director of public affairs for NORAD and U.S. Northern Command. “They’ll bring their children, who grew up tracking Santa, to participate in the ops center.”
‘NO-FAIL’ FOR SAINT NICK
A “playbook” provides volunteers with tips for answering the phones, Miller said, while some contributors staff social media and email terminals.
“It is, no kidding, a no-fail mission for NORAD every year,” he said. “And of course, one of the great messages about NORAD and its ability to track Santa is the fact that we bring to play the same technologies and capabilities to keep track of Santa, his sleigh and the reindeer as we do in defense of the homeland every day.”
While NORAD handles most of the military’s Santa-related outreach, Miller said he was aware of a late-October Twitter spat between accounts belonging to North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri: After some back-and-forth, the official Air Force Twitter account tried to cool off the feud with a tweet that read, in part, “Santa will bring you nothing this year ... becuase [sic] he isn’t real!”
In a follow-up message, the service said it was “bluffing” and that Santa was, of course, very much real.
“After doing this for 62 years, we here at NORAD know a thing or two about Santa, and I just wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of any naysayers on Christmas morning when they go out to see their stockings,” Miller said.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.