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News | Dec. 20, 2023

NORAD preps new ops, call center for 2023 NORAD Tracks Santa

By John Ingle North American Aerospace Defense Command Public Affairs

[media2:right:medium]PETERSON SPACE FORCE BASE, Colo. – North American Aerospace Defense Command’s much-anticipated annual holiday mission of tracking Jolly Old St. Nick around the globe is swiftly approaching, and with a more operational feel.

The 68th installment of NORAD Tracks Santa here will take on a visual blend of military background and holiday cheer as the NTS Call Center takes up residence in Hangar 123, a structure that portends to a military operation more becoming of two of NORAD’s missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control. The new location harkens to the beginning of the program in 1955 when a young child, trying to reach Santa, mistakenly called the unlisted number of Continental Air Defense Command’s Operations Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, thus beginning NORAD’s one-day mission of tracking Santa.

“Being in Hangar 123 roots the program squarely in the operational context that it came from,” said NTS program manager 1st Lt. Sean Carter. “Over the years, this particular program has experienced several different iterations, sometimes leaning more into the festivities of the holiday season, other times celebrating the whimsy. Ultimately, tracking Santa is a military operation, and having Hangar 123 as the new home to the call center couldn’t be more appropriate.”

Carter, who is in his second year of leading the Department of Defense’s largest civic outreach venture, said NORAD Tracks Santa 2023 is full of new and improved features including the location, new games and technology, a ninth language offered on the NTS website ( and more. He said it’s a bit overwhelming, but every addition and change has been for the better.

The biggest addition and change has one NTS first-timer growing more and more excited for the annual holiday tracking mission in 2023.

Larry Wilkerson, Peterson SFB installation deployment officer and deployment and distribution flight chief for the 21st Logistic Readiness Squadron, said he was surprised when the NTS team first approached the installation about using Hangar 123 as the new location for the call center. His surprise soon turned to excitement after realizing what a great fit the facility is for the operation.

[media3:left:medium]“My excitement has grown working with the NTS team, watching and listening to them while walking through the facility,” he said. “Seeing first-hand how they plan and execute this truly fantastic event geared to kids around the world is needed more so in light of the current world events.”

Wilkerson said getting the facility ready for the NTS team to transform the hangar-turned-deployment-center into a winter wonderland was a little challenging, but the team at the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron came through to make repairs to the structure.

“My hat’s off to them,” he said.

Carter echoed Wilkerson’s sentiments in regards to mission partners at Space Base Delta 1 coming together to make this year’s event, as well as previous occasions, one to remember.

“For decades now, we’ve benefitted from their support,” he said. “Whether that’s facility maintenance, snow removal or base security, we’re incredibly grateful for the contributions from Space Operations Command and Space Base Delta 1.”

Byron Bradford, senior voice engineer at SBD 1’s 21st Communication Squadron, has been somewhat of a NTS mainstay, having participated in the communications side of the endeavor for more than a decade, first as an active-duty Airman and then as a civilian.

“When NTS moved from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station to Peterson Air Force Base in 2006, I was one of the subject matter experts that set it up at Peterson,” he said. “I helped set it up the first two years, then I moved from the 21st CS and wasn’t part of the program for four years.”

Bradford said Hangar 123 was one of two potential locations for the new call center when the NTS team began looking for a new home in early 2023. He said the amount of space available in the deployment hangar’s briefing room and available parking for volunteers and staff made it a logical choice.

But, it also came with some challenges … and opportunities.

Bradford said moving and installing communications equipment, wiring the facility to support the equipment and setting up phones on the call center desks is a relatively large muscle movement for the team. However, new technologies and automation discovered during COVID-era NTS events has opened doors for volunteers to answer from other locations.

Carter said tracking Santa one night a year is an extra special assignment that is taken seriously, just like the daily NORAD mission of aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning. At the end of it all, though, he said there is one thing that makes the NTS mission special, successful and come to life each Dec. 24 – the people.

“The outpouring of support and camaraderie that flood our phone lines and inboxes serve as a reaffirmation of the holiday spirit and why we work throughout the year to keep this program alive,” he said. “As with last year, I’m looking forward to the collaboration between the military members, community volunteers and corporate contributors that make tracking Santa a reality.”