Christmas is a State of Mind

Chances are that if you have ever been in the military, you’ve been deployed over Christmas.  It can be a difficult time; you can’t help but remember all of those Christmases past spent with family and friends at home. At the same time, you usually find a way to make the best of the situation with your new military family. Santa hats seemingly pop out of nowhere. You certainly don’t remember packing those when you left the States. Anything vaguely resembling a tree will do in a pinch, as a Christmas tree adorned with makeshift ornaments.

Sometimes, the tree isn’t even a tree. You do the best with what you have.

Tracking the Fat Man

On one particularly memorable “away from home” Christmas, I was at Fort Carson, which is a very short distance from the Cheyanne Mountain Complex that, at the time, housed NORAD.  The word went out through the chain of command that if were weren’t doing anything Christmas Eve, NORAD Santa Tracker was looking for volunteers.

It just so happened that, even though I had a wife and young kids at home a couple thousand miles away, I was free for the evening, so I thought I’d volunteer. After a dining facility Christmas Eve dinner, I made my way to Cheyanne Mountain for what was to become one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Crammed into a room usually reserved for tracking airborne objects the world over were hundreds of soldiers and airmen sporting Santa hats. All of the visual displays showed Santa with his correct latitude and longitude, led by one reindeer with a glowing red nose.

Hundreds of telephones lined up on portable tables were brought in for the event. An Air Force Colonel was in charge of that night’s mission, and he briefed us on what to do with deadpan seriousness.  “Hello, NORAD Santa Tracker. This is (state your name and rank). How may I help you, Sir or Ma’am?”  I must have repeated that line 500 times that night.

As you can see, this is all taken quite seriously.