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NORAD Tracks Santa's Christmas Eve Journey

By Terri Moon Cronk

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2014 - Now a 59-year tradition, the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, will follow Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve travels using radar, satellites, jet fighters and special cameras, said Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh, spokesman for the NORAD Tracks Santa program.

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Volunteers monitor phones and computers to talk with children while tracking Santa Claus at the North American Aerospace Defense Command Tracks Santa Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo., U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

First, the northern warning radar system covers nearly 50 installations across northern Canada and Alaska to closely monitor signs of when Santa leaves the North Pole in his flying-reindeer-powered sleigh, Marsh explained.

Next, the geosynchronous orbit satellite system begins tracking Santa’s route, 22,000 miles above earth, using infrared systems that detect heat to pick up the warmth generated by Rudolph the reindeer’s red nose, he said.

Finally, Canadian NORAD CF-18 fighter pilots take off from Newfoundland and welcome Santa and his reindeer to North America, where American NORAD jet pilots escort him in F-15s, -16s or -22s, Marsh said.

Santa Cams Keep Kids on Course

That’s when the high-speed, digital Santa cameras positioned around the world pick up St. Nick at about 3 a.m., MST and 5 a.m., EST Christmas Eve, Marsh said. Pictures and videos from the cams are loaded onto the Santa tracker at http://www.noradsanta.org/.

That’s when the fun begins.

Volunteers take their positions at 4 a.m., MST, and 6 a.m., EST at the NORAD operations center to field children’s phone calls at 1-877-446-6723 or 1-877-HI-NORAD in eight languages -- English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese.

Children can then watch as Santa starts his trek from the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean, travels west, and moves up and down the Eastern and Western hemispheres. Weather conditions may cause Santa to vary his course.

Volunteers Get Caught in Excitement

The volunteers work two-hour shifts but usually stay longer out of excitement, said Marsh, adding, “We couldn’t do this without them.”

Volunteers also talk to children all around the world from NORAD all around the world by email at noradtrackssanta@outlook.com, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google-Plus and even via OnStar operators.

“We're expecting more than 1,250 American and Canadian uniformed personnel, [Defense Department] civilians, family members and members of the local community to volunteer their time Dec. 24 to answer the thousands of phone calls and emails that flood in,” Marsh said.

Last year, the NORAD Tracks Santa operations center had nearly 20 million website visits from people in 234 countries, 1.45 million Facebook “likes,” and more than 146,000 Twitter followers, Marsh said.

Volunteers received more than 117,000 phone calls during the 23-hour timeframe, he said, and responded to more than 9,606 emails and some 800 inquiries through OnStar.

Kids Ask Everything

Children ask volunteers lots of questions about Santa’s whereabouts, whether he goes to every house in the world, and how he gets all the presents delivered in one night.

“NORAD intelligence reports indicate that Santa doesn’t experience time the way we do but in his own space-time continuum,” Marsh said. “It seems like 24 hours to us, but it’s days, weeks and even months to Santa, because he wouldn’t want to rush the important job of delivering gifts and spreading joy.”

Some children want to know Santa’s age, Marsh said.

“It’s hard to know for sure,” he said. “But he’s at least 16 centuries old.”

The volunteers also advise children that Santa delivers presents between 9 p.m. and midnight, so it’s important for them to be asleep when he arrives, Marsh said.

No Need to Wait for the Fun

As Christmas nears, children and their families can take part in new age-appropriate games every day on the website, watch movies, listen to holiday tunes by the Air Force Academy Band and read about Santa, the history of his ancient sleigh and the holiday traditions of other countries.

NORAD’s Track Santa program is DoD’s largest community outreach program, and this year about 60 organizations’ contributions will make the program possible, Marsh said.

“We’re very proud of our mission [at NORAD and NORTHCOM] and we’re good at it all -year long,” Marsh said. “But we love the opportunity this time of year to be able to say to everyone, ‘Sleep tight. We have the watch.’”

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