By Brian Rokus and Barbara Starr
Does Santa need more than just Rudolph’s red nose to guide his sleigh on Christmas Eve this year?
Like, maybe, two fighter jets?
A new video released by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) to promote its annual tracking of Santa’s trip around the world is drawing fire from some children’s advocates.
In the 39-second clip, Santa is shown flying across the globe, tracked by an Air Force radar surveillance plane and, at one point, being escorted by two fighters.
“I think that it’s really problematic. It’s taking a beloved children’s tradition and inserting violence and militarism into it,” said Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
An accompanying video documents NORAD’s “test flight” to track Santa (call sign “Big Red One”). Maritime units report they’re ready to conduct “any gift rescue operations if necessary” while land units verify “load-bearing capacity for all rooftops which reindeer will land on.”
“It’s a backdoor way to market to children, and the military has no business marketing to children,” Golin said.
Last year, the website had 22.3 million unique visitors from 235 countries and the program had 1.5 million Facebook followers.
The videos and extensive website – intended to be lighthearted – includes more scenes this year to reflect NORAD’s work when it’s not tracking Santa.
“This is a site that is intended as a service to children around the world,” said NORAD spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis. “We did make a conscious effort this year to be a bit more operational because that’s what we do.”
But marketing to children what NORAD does is a concern for some groups.
“They’re not showing their capabilities to adults, they’re showing their capabilities to children. As an adult I find it interesting, but the problem is that children are watching this,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
The military has tracked Santa since 1955 when a newspaper ad urged children to call Santa directly. But the phone number was misprinted and connected callers to the crew commander at the operations center of NORAD’s predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command.
While the public can still call NORAD by phone on Christmas Eve to get a real-time update on Santa’s whereabouts, the operation has since gone high-tech and online with a new interactive tracking map and even smartphone apps.
According to NORAD, more than 1,250 Canadian and American uniformed personnel and civilians volunteer their time on December 24 to answer the tens of thousands of e-mails and more than 100,000 incoming phone calls. Virtually all of the costs are paid for by corporate sponsors.
Calls to Santa for comment were not immediately returned.