in the east will help guide North American Aerospace Defense
Command’s Santa-tracking tradition Dec. 24. The Starr is none
other than former Beatle, Ringo Starr, who will be NORAD’S
honorary Santa tracker for Christmas 2003.
“Santa and I are personal friends,” Starr said from
his home in England. “He’s asked me to do this special
job with this incredible new SantaCam, and I’ll be tracking
him as he comes over Great Britain.”
NORAD technicians upgraded the omnidirectional high-speed
digital SantaCam stationed in Great Britain and have moved it from
Stonehenge to a top-secret hideaway near Starr’s home.
“We took it offline for awhile and upgraded it, and gave
it some new capabilities,” said Maj. Doug Martin, NORAD
Santa-tracking operations chief. “We then began to wonder who
we could ask to operate it this year.
“We discussed it with Santa, and his first idea was Ringo
Starr,” Martin said. “When we called Ringo, Santa had
already phoned, and he said ‘Yes’ immediately. We were
“Ringo recently received Santa-tracking techniques from
NORAD technicians and has become an expert in the use of the
SantaCam,” said Canadian Maj. Gen. Angus Watt, director of
operations for NORAD. “We hope he’ll capture images of
Father Christmas somewhere in Great Britain this year.”
“He’ll be looking all over Great Britain, Wales,
Ireland, Scotland and England,” Martin said. “We expect
images to come in around 4 p.m. (MST) Christmas Eve. That’s
around 11 (p.m.) England time.”
see amazing things,” Starr said. “I’m privileged
to be one of the Santa trackers.”
The “Santa-tracking” tradition started in 1955 by
pure accident after a Colorado Springs newspaper ran an
advertisement for a department store “Santa Hotline.”
The ad included a special phone number, which turned out to be the
operations hotline to NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental
Air Defense Command. When callers asked to speak to Santa, the
servicemembers on duty were surprised to hear 6-year-old children
on the hotline.
The senior officer on duty at the time, Col. Harry Shoup,
received the first Santa call. Realizing what had happened, Shoup
told the callers he was helping Santa and said his radar screens
showed Santa heading south from the North Pole.
His staff quickly jumped in to help handle the influx of calls.
A picture of Santa and his reindeer was added to the map of North
America, and the tradition was underway. Local media heard of the
calls and reported the story locally. The next year, calls came
flooding in to Continental Air Defense Command from children who
wanted to know where Santa was. A tradition was born -- a tradition
NORAD assumed in 1957. Since then, the program has expanded
gradually over the years, hitting the Internet in 1997.
In 2001, NORAD’s Santa-tracking mission was nearly
forgotten in the wake of the events of Sept. 11, Martin said. It
was not until early December that anyone had been able to give the
annual tradition any thought. The operations center was readied and
volunteers stood by the phones.
That night, Martin said, “we received a call from a New
York City firefighter who was feeling very emotional, because he
was with his children on Christmas Eve. This particular person had
lost 43 friends in the terrorist attacks.
“We were all touched by this firefighter’s loss, but
it also gave us the realization that we were doing the right thing
by making sure that kids around the world knew that NORAD is still
tracking Santa,” he said.
NORAD’s Santa-tracking mission will also be featured on
television during a special biography program about Santa on Dec.
18 on A&E Biography. [ANN Thanks Tech. Sgt. Michael Phillips,
21st Space Wing Public Affairs]