12/24/2009

There once was a man named...

A long time ago, 1955 to be exact, Colonel Harry Shoup answered a simple phone call. As the phone rang, to be sure his heart was probably racing. For him, when the operations phone rang it was usually a sign of trouble, for his assigned post was director of the Continental Air Defense Command. The phone number to Ops was classified and not distributed unless you had a "need to know". Yes, THE phone was ringing, and it was Christmas Eve.

Was something spotted on Radar on a base somewhere in the United States? Was CONAD being called into action on this...one of America's most treasured holidays? Could we be under attack?

The voice on the other end of the phone startled him.

"Can I talk to Santa please"

Like many members of our Military, Colonel Shoup was not only intelligent, but quick on his feet. When he arrived at work that Christmas Eve, he had no idea that a simple advertising error from a local Sears and Roebuck would, very publicly, push his organization into the spotlight. A simple phone number error caused this child to believe he was calling Santa. Colonel Shoup couldn't let him down.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

He immediately told the young caller (and many callers to come) that Santa was up and away in the sleigh, and that CONAD had his signature on Radar (thanks to Rudolf's nose). He gave the youngster Santa's location, and let him know that CONAD was on the watch.

Satisfied, the youngster hung up - the first of many youngsters to get an update from Colonel Santa and his men and women at CONAD.

As CONAD morphed into NORAD, the Department of Defense as well as the fine men and women of the US Military continued the tradition of tracking Santa throughout his journey. Manning phones and providing updates became a treasured assigment for the mission was an important one; children all over the world were counting on them.

Fighter Jets began interceptions of the sleigh (which officially weighs in at 75,000 g.d. at takeoff - for those of you who aren't familiar with the measurement - g.d=gumdrops). They tipped their wings in greeting to St. Nick - who has always responded with a wave back.

A website was developed - NoradSanta.org, and millions of children and adults alike drop in via cyberspace to see where Santa has been, and where he is going next.

All because the phone rang on that dark night in 1955.

That night in 1955, Colonel Shoup accepted of his own accord, not only the mission of keeping our airspace safe, but keeping the jolly old elf on Radar, and the joy and miracle of Santa alive in the hearts and minds of youngsters everywhere.

Colonel Shoup passed away in March of 2009. This is the first Christmas that NORAD is tracking Santa since Colonel Santa passed. But because of his actions on that night, much like Rudolph, Colonel Shoup and his actions have, without a doubt, gone down in history. Thank you Colonel Santa...for your service not only to our country...but for your love of Christmas, all things Santa, and your love of children.


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