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Fear & Loading: How NORAD Saved Santa

Members of our military guard the front line of freedom, even on Christmas Eve, but six decades ago, those manning their stations at the U.S. Continental Air Defense Command went above and beyond the call of duty and inadvertently spread a holiday spirit that continues to this day.  

It was Dec. 24, 1955, and USAF Col. Harry Shoup fielded the first call. A little girl on the other end of the line dialed a wrong number listed in a Sears and Roebuck advertisement. She had no idea she was connected a NORAD hotline when she asked to speak to Santa.

That was serious stuff back at the height of the Cold War, but long before marketing gurus termed the phrase “adapt and overcome,” Col. Shoup explained Saint Nicholas was aloft, on the radar and safely delivering packages. Calls flooded in, and the rest of the staff on duty followed his lead, providing an “all’s well” status and along with a position.

A lot has changed since that fateful first call 60 years ago, but the tradition is more popular than ever. Today children of all ages can visit NORAD’s official Santa tracker to watch his progress (even on a smartphone or tablet). The website has games, holiday music, virtual tours of workshops at the North Pole, sleigh technical data and more. It’s hypnotizing to my youngest grandson.

Every year more than 1,000 uniformed and civilian volunteers staff the facility to answer e-mails, tweet and keep everyone updated. A dedicated YouTube channel includes videos and trailers, and one short video even explains how that wrong number launched the program.

To all the men and women in our nation’s uniforms standing guard on the front line of freedom this holiday season, thank you. Your services don’t always garner headlines, or earn medals, but sometimes those seemingly little duties—like Col Shoup’s patience on Christmas Eve—make a huge difference, and define exactly why this is the greatest nation on earth.   

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