Norad boss knows successful Santa tracking is mission critical
COLORADO SPRINGS (Tribune News Service) — Adm. Bill Gortney says it's the one annual mission his command can't fail — keeping track of Santa Claus.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command will celebrate 60 years of success on Christmas Eve when hundreds of volunteers gather at Peterson Air Force Base to help the command and children around the globe track Santa's sleigh on its toy-bearing trip.
It started in 1955 with a holiday-minded colonel and a typo in The Gazette.
The local Sears store ran an advertisement in the newspaper asking children to call Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. The number Sears provided, though, went to NORAD, the command that protects America from bomber and missile attack.
Col. Harry Shoup was on the other end of those calls and told the disappointed kids he wasn't Santa, but he had him on radar. A tradition was born.
"It never would have been possible if Col. Shoup hadn't had the kindness of heart to take those calls," command spokeswoman Stacey Knott said.
Now the command, which uses donations to pay for the effort, has a website dedicated to tracking the annual trek. Noradsanta.org gets millions of visits over the holidays.
For the 60th anniversary, the website includes a depiction of the North Pole, where the trip begins. Turns out Santa's complex has a building that looks just like Building 2 at Peterson.
On Christmas Eve, 1,500 volunteers, many of them Building 2 workers, will answer more than 125,000 calls to 1-877-HI-NORAD.
"Our call center is live for 23 hours on Dec. 24," Knott said.
On the other end of the phone are children, from toddlers on up who are full of questions.
"The calls are cute and funny. Some of them break your heart," Knott said.
The callers get one stock answer.
"Everybody knows that Santa will not stop at your house if you're not in bed and asleep when he arrives," Knott said.
Many calls end with the kid dropping the phone and rushing to bed before grateful parents pass a thank you.
"We hear from a lot of families that NORAD Santa has become a tradition," she said.
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