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Air Force Veteran Helps Track Santa

Laurie talks with participants at an exercise in August 2018

Laurie Turner (center) talks with VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System Director, Susan Fuehrer (right) and participants at a disaster readiness exercise in August 2018.

By Heather Roe
Thursday, December 20, 2018

CLEVELAND – There are few things more magical during the holiday season than waiting for Santa Claus’ annual trip down the chimney. Getting Santa to the chimney though involves a “top-secret” tracking mission lead by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System Area Emergency Manager, and U.S. Air Force Veteran, Laurie Turner, participated in this treasured mission in 2003 while she was on active duty, stationed at NORAD. 

“When your job day to day is looking for potential threats and always being on the edge of your seat to respond to those threats, it was nice to move into a festive holiday,” said Turner. “Who doesn’t love Santa? It was such a neat transition for everybody to have their mood lifted. It really did. A highlight of your career!”

The tradition of NORAD tracking Santa goes back 63 years to 1955 when a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. printed an advertisement in the local newspaper providing children with a telephone number to call and talk to Santa. However, they misprinted the number and kids instead called the then, Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) Commander-in-Chief’s “hotline.” Instead of correcting the error, the Director of Operations, Col. Harry Shoup and his staff would check the radar for Santa and give updates to children calling in. Thus, the tradition of NORAD tracking Santa was born.

“It’s as relevant today as it was back then. If you have young kids and if you have grandkids getting into that Santa mood, you need to track Santa using the NORAD tracker,” said Turner. “It is the most accurate tracking of Santa you can have based upon the surveillance equipment NORAD has access to. Your kids can either do it online, on the app, or call the phone and find where Santa is in relationship to their house and when they can expect him so they can get in bed.”

The command begins tracking Santa and his reindeer December 23rd ensuring children from around the world can participate. NORAD has volunteers compiled of military family members, Veterans, and active duty service members operating the phones. On average NORAD receives more than 140,000 calls to the hotline from around the world.

NORAD has evolved their techniques to keep children up-to-date with Santa’s location. They’ve made it even easier for children to track Santa with the official NORAD Santa website and an app for your smart device. The website has interactive games, music, and NORAD’s history for children to learn and play. There is also a link to the app store for their Santa tracking app.

“This is the one thing that grew and blossomed and lives today. [It ties] into what the Veterans represent at the VA. The good things they did during their career. They’re still going on,” Turner said.

Turner’s experience tracking Santa helps with her role as the VA’s Area Emergency Manager. She’s responsible for coordinating VA’s National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) response in the event of an emergency. NDMS is a federally coordinated, asset-sharing program that augments local medical care when an emergency exceeds the scope of a community’s hospital and health care resources. VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System is one of 50 Federal Coordinating Centers and works with the United States Departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Defense, along with local hospitals and emergency management partners to prepare for NDMS responses to unforeseen disasters and public health emergencies.

This holiday season bring cheer to your household and start the tradition of tracking Santa with loved ones. NORAD will be waiting for your youngsters to call!


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