With the return of the Track Santa program run by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, it looks as if Santa Claus gets to have a pair of F-18 Hornets for wingmen for his journey to deliver presents. The annual tradition was started back in 1955 when then Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) mistakingly received calls from a program run by Sears where they advertised that kids could dial up Santa and talk to him. However, they’d given out the wrong number and instead of some voice acting to imitate Santa, they got a bona fide military base. Thousands of calls had already gone through before anyone noticed the mistake.
Colonel Harry Shoup, CONAD’s base commander realized what had happened and came up with the idea of giving out Santa’s current position as he made his rounds, having his staff field every call. Thus it became a Christmas tradition, even when a few years later, CONAD became NORAD, which in turn got buried deep under a mountain. From then on, volunteers have been fielding up to 70,000 calls from over 190 countries. The “mission” allows families to either call in or log on to the website to receive “real time” updates on Santa’s position as he makes his Christmas deliveries. Last year, the program reached some 22 million families, so it is not surprising just how truly popular it is.
This new twist to the program has Santa flying with a pair of military jets as his wingmen, ostensibly to protect him as he crosses restricted airspace during the course of his deliveries. It also has some wondering about the impact of militarizing Christmas in children’s eyes by adding weapons into the mix. One such is child psychologist Allen Kanner who has said, “Children associate Santa with gifts and fun and everything else that is positive about Christmas. They are associating this with the military in children’s minds. It is completely out of line.” It is hardly a secret what the military’s true mission is. Recruitment. They have to start reaching children to tap into future resources to fill the ranks. Indeed, the military has been using marketing consultants for years, as well as tailoring ad campaigns to reach a younger audience—a video game audience. A recent Marine commercial depicted an invasion and asked the question, “Which way would you run?”
If this latest tweak to the Track Santa program pulls in even more hits and calls, it will definitely shine a bit more light on NORAD’s mission and capabilities. Most of that comprises defending America and Canada from airborne threats the other 11 months out of the year that it is not tracking Santa. A NORAD spokesman, Navy Captain Jeff A. Davis, has stated that, “It’s cutesy because it’s for kids.”
The entire Track Santa program includes games, music and movies, including the video that showcases Santa’s wingmen flying F-18 Hornets, ready to protect him. It is never actually specified what they’re protecting Santa from, but hey, Santa’s got his wingmen and Rudolph is certainly happy for the company.
By Lee Birdine