North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has a serious job protecting our skies and seas from enemy invasions. Working with other commands, it detects and warns against attacks on North America. It monitors aircraft, missiles, and man-made objects in space. The command uses fighters to intercept, and if necessary, engage any air-breathing threat to the continent. It also issues warnings regarding maritime threats throughout internal waterways and approaches to the U.S. and Canada.
Its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), had a very special, unexpected mission in 1955. A colonel answered a call on the command’s top-secret hotline, an unlisted number only known by a four-star general at the Pentagon. Initially expecting an emergency, the colonel was surprised and angered to hear a child asking for Santa Claus. But he soon realized this was not a national emergency or a joke, so he played along. He assured the child that Santa would have a safe journey from the North Pole.
The colonel learned a Sears ad included a typo in a phone number for Santa — directing to CONAD’s top-secret line. He assigned a couple airmen to answer these special calls. This became a big joke around the command center. When the colonel arrived at the command center on Christmas Eve, a drawing of a sleigh replaced the usual airplane tracking on a board depicting North America. He paused for a moment when his troops apologized and offered to take it down.
And then everything changed. He called a radio station to announce who he was and share an observation of an unidentified flying object that looked like a sleigh. After that, radio stations called him hourly asking for Santa’s latest location.
This began the annual tradition that transitioned to NORAD when it was created in 1958. Volunteers talk to people across the world on the NORAD Tracks Santa hotline, and now, anyone can track Santa’s progress themselves. Those who believe can also monitor Santa’s journey on NORAD’s app, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
Contact: Rachel Bolles — Public Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 904.760.2425
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