Reminiscences – Major Stacia Reddish - Santa Tracking at NORAD – 2004 - 2008
I became involved in the NORAD Tracks Santa program in 2004, while working as an Air Force Reservist at NORAD Public Affairs in Colorado Springs. At first, my involvement was ensuring the NORAD Tracks Santa Operations Center (call center on 24 - 25 Dec), was up and running with volunteers on Christmas Eve. The NTS Ops Center was located at Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station. The NTS Ops Center was actually a training building for the 721st Security Police at CMAFS. I was also responsible for the "Volunteer Santa Tracker Training Rally" that took place at Peterson AFB auditorium. This was a great event - attended by Goose Gossage here in Colorado Springs, as well as Colonel Harry Shoup, his daughter Teri and son who was in the Navy. We had Mrs Claus (LTC Stellgwagen) and the Commander, Gen Eberhart, all involved in the "training" of volunteers, and celebrating the occasion. MAJ Doug Martin, NORAD Public Affairs, was in charge of managing the NTS web site, and I was responsible for the NTS Ops Center. At that time, the partners were Verizon, AOL, Island Web, AGI.
When MAJ Martin PCSed, LT Vazquez and MSgt Tomassi got involved with NTS program, and the following year, due to the death of MAJ Martin's replacement in Public Affairs - MAJ Steele, and the departure of the LT and the MSgt, I became involved again in the NTS program, now respponsible for both the web site and the NTS Ops Center. The web site was hosted by the fine folks at AOL (original partner), and the web site was designed by Jason F. at Island Web in NYC (original partner). To me, the web site was not interactive enough for kids. It was difficult to make any changes to the site, since Mike was in New York City and I was in Colorado Springs, so that first year, I made little changes, and the program with off without a hitch.
After Christmas that year, I made it my goal to come up with a better NTS web site. When I approched AOL about this, they resisted due to the huge amount of traffic on the web site. They were already renting server space from Akamai in order to host/accommodate the site, and AOL believed the existing server space could mpt handle any additional traffic, and recommeded the site not be interactive.
At the same time, a Canadian in my office, sent me a Google link that stated "Google in sync with NORAD tracking Santa". The link, unfortunately was closed. So, I reached out to the marketing folks at Google, asking them to open the link so I could read the article. After a couple weeks, Melissa the Marketing director for Google called and stated that Brian McC at Google loved NTS, and that he had actually tried to get his own Santa tracking site started. Knowing this, Melissa had called my office prior to Christmas Eve, requesting NORAD's "map" for Santa, and MSgt Tony Hill, my assistant, had given our tracking map to Melissa - bless his heart (we actually always gave it to any media that desired it). Melissa had wrapped up the map, put a bow on it, and gave it to Brian as a Christmas gift! So yes, the article contained the true and correct information - Google was indeed in synch with NORAD tracking Santa! Melissa and I talked about the NTS program, and my frustration in not being able to make the site more interactive/fun for the kids. Melissa was very excited about the prospects of Google becoming involved in the program, so she ran it by the folks at Google and Google Earth, and I submitted it to our NORAD Legal folks for review. It was approved by both, and Google officially became a NTS partner, and provided the servers (hosted) for the NTS site, as well as the Google Earth tracking maps displayed on Christmas Eve.
We continued to use the 24 animated videos of Santa's trek provided by AGI (original partner). Our language translations were provided by Globelink here in Colorado Springs. With greater web server capability, I began work on the design aspects of the NTS web site. So, I contacted my friend Kim at Booz Allen Hamilton here in Colorado Springs. I had known Kim for years, and she had mentioned to me earlier of her interest in NTS. She was more than happy to entertain the idea of redesigning the site, and when approved tbe the BAH Senior Partner, and the NORAD legal office, we completely redesigned the NTS web site. That year, we had a new web site design, and Google hosted servers - it was a record year for NTS. Also Melisssa entertained the idea of hosting the videos on U Tube, which was approved and a huge hit with the viewing audience! 2007 was a record breaking year for NTS with the largest viewing audience ever. Google's involvement in the program opened new avenues not previously obtainable.
The next year, we moved the NTS Operations Center from Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station to Peterson AFB, the Leadership Development Center. We had outgrown the Security Police training "shed" and the LDC was fully equipped with 100 phones and computers. Also that year, Google promoted Melissa, and Jeff M at Google became involved.