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PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AP) — Once a year, hundreds of volunteers, from generals to people who live near North American Aerospace Defense Command at Colorado's Peterson Air Force Base, take calls from children around the world who want to find out where Santa is. It all started with a typo in a December 1955 newspaper ad that invited kids to call Santa, but the phone number it listed was for the Continental Aerospace Defense Command, the predecessor to NORAD. The officers on duty, charged with watching the skies for threats to the United States and Canada, played along and began an annual tradition of passing along reports on Santa's progress.
YOU HAVE TO BE ASLEEP: Even though volunteers are prepared to give callers exact locations like Palau and Novosibirsk, Russia, volunteer Patty Shook says most kids just want to know when Santa is going to get to their house. "They think it's so cool that we know where he's at at all times," said Shook, who answered calls for the fifth year along with her husband Bryan Shook, who spent 23 years in the Air Force. On Wednesday, Shook got in the spirit by wearing a Dallas Cowboys Santa hat, overalls with a snowman on the bib and a necklace of miniature Christmas lights. One caller seemed surprised when Shook said Santa was in Kazakhstan. "He's delivering presents that's what he's doing there," said Shook, phones ringing in the background as another nearby volunteer talked to a caller from Georgia. She assured a boy named Oliver that Santa would be at his house sometime between 9 p.m. and midnight local time, but only if he was asleep — the volunteers' usual disclaimer. "The parents really like that we tell them that they have to be asleep," said Shook, laughing. Another boy pushed the issue, asking whether parents also must be asleep. "I told them 'Yes they do," so mom and dad can get to bed early," she said.
NO CELLPHONE ON SLEIGH: Ashlee Peterson of Colorado Springs returned to answer calls for the second year, bringing friend Michele Bergeman, a first-time volunteer. The phones rang nearly nonstop during their shift, and they tried to keep calls short so they could talk to as many children as possible. Peterson estimated that she had talked to about 200 children, including about a dozen at a daycare center in Toronto who yelled questions on speakerphone. Many asked to talk to Santa himself, but Peterson said she couldn't patch them through to the sleigh. "We just say that Santa is extremely busy today, he's delivering presents to children so he's asked us to be his helpers today to answer his question because he doesn't carry his cellphone with him on the sleigh," she said. Peterson, 31, said she loves hearing the excitement of the kids. "It gets you in the spirit and kind of brings you back to the true meaning of Christmas," she said.
MINCEMEAT AND CARROTS: Bergeman was asked if she was Michele Obama, who has previously volunteered to take calls from vacation in Hawaii, and a boy from Georgia told her "Peace out, homie" before hanging up. She spoke with a family in Derbyshire, England, which has made a call to NORAD part of their Christmas tradition. They told her they were getting mincemeat pie ready for Santa and would put out a 3-pound bag of carrots for his reindeer, Bergeman said. "And they're going to put their fire out in the fireplace so Santa doesn't burn his bottom when he lands," she said.
CALLING IN RUDOLPH: Maj. Gen. Charles D. Luckey is the chief of staff of NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, an operation responsible for the United States' homeland security. On Wednesday, he took phone calls from children around the world asking where Santa was, getting into detailed conversations with them and speaking as if he might be directing Santa Claus. Dressed in fatigues, he told one caller in Virginia about plans to keep the sleigh on schedule despite rain in the area. "We're going to put Rudolph back in front coming across the Atlantic, and we'll keep him in front for the eastern seaboard so we can try to make up a little time here," he said. He estimated that Santa would arrive in Virginia between "8:55 and 9:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time." Brig. Gen. Guy Hamel, a Canadian who serves as NORAD's deputy policy director, took calls from three children at the Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario and a 5-year-old in Japan. "What is wonderful is you can hear the little voice and then the parents that come on after that," he said.
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