By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Tracking Santa

News-Register file photo##Santa visits with a youngster during his stop in Willamina in early December. On Christmas Eve, children usually do t see him -- he flies all over the world, so he stops at each home only long enough to deliver gifts and munch on cookies.
News-Register file photo##Santa visits with a youngster during his stop in Willamina in early December. On Christmas Eve, children usually do't see him -- he flies all over the world, so he stops at each home only long enough to deliver gifts and munch on cookies.

While locals are nestled all snug in their beds this Christmas, the cadets of McMinnville’s Civil Air Patrol squadron will be watching the skies.

Lt. Cathe Fredericks, the squadron’s public affairs officers, said intelligence briefings from the North American Aerospace Defense Command warn that a bogey might well enter McMinnville airspace Dec. 24 — possibly piloted by a known home invader.

That’s right. Santa Claus is coming to town. And the Civil Air Patrol is on high alert.

This is not — repeat not — a time for merriment, Frederic said. Any merriment is strictly against regulations, she added.

“The cadets are instructed to maintain their decorum,” Frederic said. “They will be treating this as any other training mission.”

Starting at 0100 Zulu (that’s 6 p.m. in the civilian world), at least four cadets will work with NORAD officials to track this Claus person’s movements. For three hours from their mobile unit camped outside the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, cadets will be on their radios relaying NORAD dispatches and weather reports regarding Claus’ exact whereabouts.

“Our CAP van is specially equipped with an HF radio,” Frederic said. “We have stationary as well as mobile capabilities.”

Again, she stressed, she is not kidding around. “This isn’t a public relations activity,” she said. “It’s actually a training mission.”

There will be absolutely no frivolity whatsoever. Well, maybe just a little.

“The official uniform of the day is an elf suit,” she said. “The cadets will be in uniform but with red Santa hats. Even NORAD personnel will be wearing Santa hats.”

The Civil Air Patrol is an official volunteer auxiliary of the United States Air Force. It is tasked by Congress to help in emergencies, such as search-and-rescue operations, as well as provide aerospace education for young people and the general public. It also provides cadet programs for teenagers.

Most recently, the Civil Air Patrol has been assigned homeland security and courier service missions.

The McMinnville Composite Squadron generally meets from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays at the Evergreen museum.

NORAD officials have been “tracking” Santa for 60 years, ever since Christmas 1955 when the Colorado Springs Gazette ran an ad from Sears with a number for children to call Santa. However, the wrong number got printed, and the calls were routed through the Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command Center.

Col. Harry Shoup told CONAD personnel to respond to calls by giving children Santa’s current location. This tradition continued as CONAD evolved into NORAD in 1958.

Frederic said she wanted to follow the CAP’s involvement with NORAD’s annual tracking program and set up a Google alert. “I knew our units in Oregon hadn’t been aware of that yet, so I sent an email to our commander asking if we could participate in in this program,” she said.

It’s important for the McMinnville squadron to be involved, she added. This is the home of the annual UFO Festival, after all. The community has rivaled Roswell, New Mexico, as the go-to spot for space aliens since 1950.

“We have to make certain that NORAD doesn’t get confused and those jets aren’t scrambled by mistake,” Frederic said.

The CAP is also there for Claus himself, she added.

“Santa will also have to file flight plans in each and every country,” Frederic said in a press release announcing the tracking program. “This is for his safety. With those flight plans, we will be better able to fullfill our traditional role in national security as the Eyes Of The Skies. And before any flight plan is begun, a standard preflight must be executed by the pilot — or elves.”

She can’t help it, Frederic said. Regulations or no regulations, she is getting a little bit jolly about the whole thing.

“I was warned by my commanders not to be too silly, but it’s hard not to be silly if you’re going to be dressed in an elf costume,” she said.

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