WASHINGTON (AFNS) --
Among North American Aerospace Command's diverse and challenging missions, none is more gratifying -- or as downright fun -- as tracking Santa Claus each year for children around the world, the NORAD commander said this week.
"It is the most wonderful experience you can ever imagine to talk to children from literally all over the world who want to know where Santa is and 'When is he going to be at my house?'" Gen. Victor E. Renuart told local, state and federal leaders during a Dec. 16 symposium here on community resilience.
"Of course you always have to say, 'After you are asleep,'" General Renuart told the group, chuckling.
The "NORAD Tracks Santa" program dates back to 1955, when an errant Christmas Eve phone call reached what was then the Continental Air Defense Command operations center in Colorado Springs, Colo. The call came from a local youngster who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a local newspaper ad and wanted to know where Santa was.
The commander who answered the phone gave the child the information he wanted, starting an annual tradition that NORAD assumed when it formed in 1958. This year marks NORAD's 50th anniversary of tracking Santa as he travels the world delivering gifts.
The program has grown significantly, particularly since it was first presented on the Internet in 1998. The Web site registered 10.6 million visitors last year from 212 countries and territories, NORAD officials said.
In addition, more than 1,000 volunteers who staffed the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center last Christmas Eve answered nearly 95,000 phone calls and received 140,000 e-mails from families around the world, they said.
This year, NORAD will begin tracking Santa's journey Dec. 24 via live video feeds on the NORAD Tracks Santa Web site. The site also features fun holiday games and activities that change daily.
"This is not necessarily national defense," General Renuart said of the special holiday program, comparing it to NORAD's 24/7 mission providing aerospace warning and defense. "But it is a mission we have taken great pride in over the years and that has connected us with communities around the world."
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