Local airmen back on special holiday assignment


New York Air National Guardsmen and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel at the Rome-based Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS) are once again on a very special assignment Christmas Eve, following the travels of Santa Claus on the facility’s sensor systems.

Their work is part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s (NORAD) tracking of St. Nick and his reindeer for the 65th consecutive year, according to an EADS announcement Tuesday.

“We’re delighted to support NORAD’s Santa tracking operations again this year,” said Col. Paul M. Bishop, commander of EADS which has headquarters at Griffiss park. “I can assure everyone that EADS will do everything in its power to assist Santa with his critical mission.”

Due to safety concerns created by COVID-19, a limited number of volunteers will be allowed in the NORAD Tracks Santa command post at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colo. This means fewer phone operators to update Santa’s travels. Callers who are unable to reach a live operator, however, will hear a constantly updated message on Santa’s whereabouts, the announcement noted.

The tracking operations start at 4 a.m. eastern time on Dec. 24 on the www.noradsanta.org website. At 6 a.m. eastern time, children and parents can inquire about Santa by calling the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723).

Anytime on Dec. 24, Amazon Alexa users can ask for Santa’s location through the NORAD Tracks Santa skill for Amazon Alexa, and OnStar subscribers can press the OnStar button in their vehicles to locate Santa. The official NORAD Tracks Santa app has also been updated this year and is available in the Apple App and Google Play stores, enabling parents and children to follow on their smart phones and tablets. Tracking opportunities additionally are offered through social media on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, according to the announcement.

Tracking Santa has been a tradition since 1955 when a newspaper advertisement in Colorado misprinted an “Ask Santa” call-in number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone rang through to U.S. Air Force Col. Harry Shoup, the crew commander at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, the predecessor to NORAD. Shoup quickly realized a mistake had been made and assured the child he was Santa. Shoup then assigned a duty officer to continue answering calls. Thus, a holiday tradition was born, which NORAD has carried on since it was created in 1958, the announcement said.

A bi-national Canadian and American command, NORAD’s top priority is the defense of North America. NORAD uses a network of space-based, aerial and ground-based sensors, air-to-air refueling tankers and fighter aircraft on alert, in conjunction with a command and control network to detect, deter, and defend against aerial threats that originate outside or within North American airspace.

EADS, part of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR), is responsible for air defense of the eastern U.S. The organization is composed of the New York Air National Guard’s 224th Air Defense Group, a Canadian Forces detachment, U.S. Army and Navy liaison officers, federal civilians and contractors. EADS also has two detachments in the National Capital Region.


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