NORAD believes in Santa

Dear Spouse Calls,

I am 8 years old, and I just moved from Fort Sill, Okla., to Fort Eustis, Va. I am worried that Santa might not know where to bring my Christmas presents. The kids at my new school make fun of me. They say there is no Santa Claus. My dad said, “If you see it in Stars and Stripes, it better be true.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus, and how will he know where to find me?

— V.O.

Yes, little Virginia resident, there is a Santa Claus. I have it on good authority, namely the North American Aerospace Defense Command, operated jointly by the United States and Canada. NORAD knows Santa Claus is out there, because the military operation tracks his Christmas Eve journey every year from their headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The military monitors the jolly old elf’s progress around the globe and reports that progress via media, at noradsanta.org and the hotline at 1-877-HI-NORAD.

To answer your questions, I talked to one of NORAD’s Santa trackers, Lt. Alain Blondin, of the Royal Canadian Navy. He said high-tech military know-how lets NORAD pinpoint Santa’s location, but Santa’s methods for tracking military kids when they move remain a secret.

“Think of it as Santa’s OPSEC,” said Blondin. “That is part of Santa’s own magic. What we do is track Santa Claus. Where he gathers his intelligence and the details of his mission, we’re not privy to that. We’re just there to help the boys and girls all over the world to know where he is on Christmas Eve, and we’re able to get that because of our equipment.”

NORAD brings considerable military capability to the task, including infrared tracking satellites, land-based radar, as well as radar on ships and aircraft. With these tools NORAD is able to track Santa as he travels the globe, Blondin said.

The military Santa-tracking operation began back in the 1950s. Methods and equipment have improved quite a bit since then.

“The biggest difference are the infrared tracking satellites,” Blondin said. “These are used on our regular missions to identify the bloom of a missile that is taking off. That technology is what we use to track Rudolph’s nose. That’s how we can track Santa no matter where he is.”

In the early years, Santa’s progress was reported only to hotline callers. Then television and radio stations began reporting on this unusual military operation. In 1997, NORAD added a website, noradsanta.org.

Your skeptical friends at school might be surprised to know that more and more people around the world follow Santa every year. Blondin said last year on Christmas Eve, the website had 18.9 million hits and the hotline received 102,000 phone calls.

“It’s snowballing,” Blondin said. “The growth is exponential.”

He said phone calls come in from places such as New Zealand, Australia, all over Europe and Asia, as well as from North America.

The military gets help from companies, who donate all kinds of electronic services, and from more than a thousand volunteers who answer the phones. Every phone call is answered in person — no recordings or computers.

The hotline is available during the 24-hour tracking period, which begins at 5 a.m. CST on Dec. 24. The website monitors Santa’s progress during the same period.

Throughout December, the website offers other attractions — in eight languages. Online visitors can play games, watch videos contributed by Santa believers around the world and get answers to frequently asked questions about NORAD and Santa Claus.

Some questions, such as how Santa finds you when you move, can only be answered by Santa himself. Blondin said he’s not sure how, but Santa always seems to know.

“Probably the same way he finds out who’s been naughty and who’s been nice,” he said. “Regardless of the letters he gets, he knows the truth.”

So tell the kids at your new school they’d better be nice.

For some holiday reading about Santa Claus and the history of NORAD's tracking operation, check out the official website noradsanta.org, as well as an unofficial, but very interesting Norad Tracks Santa Wiki.

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