Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Code Name: Big Red – B.C. soldier with NORAD helps Santa get around the globe safely

The annual NORAD Tracks Santa program features a soldier who grew up in Langley

Lt. Col. Apollo Edmilao has faced many on-slaughts during his 33 years in the Canadian military, but this Christmas he faces a hoard so cherubic, so wide-eyed, he can only chuckle with delight.

As commanding officer of the Canadian military at the NORAD facility in Colorado Springs, the Langley-raised man is part of an international joint operation by armed forces, business, tech experts and more – the NORAD Santa Tracker. He’s been stationed in Colorado since summer 2019 and got to take part in NORAD’s annual tracking and escort of the fella code named ‘Big Red’ last Christmas.

“The calls from the kids are non-stop, filled with innocent wonder and amazement that someone is actually telling them where Santa is,” he said.

He’s glad to help make memories for children around the world.

“It was extremely hectic, but an incredibly fun and rewarding experience,” Edmilao commented. “There are so many volunteers that your shift is short and goes by so fast. On a normal year, you are in one of several rooms filled with 50 or so other people answering phone calls from kids and their parents updating them on where Santa currently is. To help, there is a big screen at the front of the room that shows the radar tracking of Santa. The mood is festive as everyone fields calls from kids and parents asking where Santa is.”

The phone line opens Dec. 24 at 6 a.m. Eastern Time. The annual tradition started as a mistake. The local newspaper there published a Sears ad telling kids they would talk to Santa, but it contained the wrong phone number. The number was actually a secret military phone at the NORAD station.

Picking up the phone that day during the height of the global Cold War was U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup at the Continental Air Defense Command Operations Center, the predecessor to NORAD. He realized the error but made history in 1955. He told the child he was Santa and they chatted. After the call he assigned a duty officer to field subsequent calls that came in, giving rise to the annual tradition. NORAD, created in 1958, continued the tradition and has expanded its Christmas work.

There’s now an app, the latest addition to the Santa Cams that stream video as Santa makes his way around the world. Children can call 1-877-Hi-NORAD (1-877-446-6723). Some will be able to talk to call takers while others will hear a prerecorded message about Big Red’s current location. Tracking opportunities are also offered through social media on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, as well as on partner platforms Amazon Alexa and OnStar. The NORAD Tracks Santa website, www.noradsanta.org, features Santa’s North Pole Village, which includes a holiday countdown, games, movie theater, holiday music, webstore, and more. The website is available in eight languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Chinese.

While COVID-19 will mean big changes to Santa Tracker, there will still be some military members staffing some phones this year. He said there can’t be the large call centre, but they will still do what they can.

“I can honestly say that I was extremely grateful and honoured to be a part of such a great tradition,” he said. “Being involved in answering calls from all over the world telling kids and parents where Santa currently is really restores some of the magic of Christmas for even us grownups.”

For Edmilao, Christmas 2020 will be spent with his wife, Tracy Walton, originally from Nova Scotia, and her daughters, Nicolle and Emma, in isolation.

“We are subject to the regulations and directives of the different American bases or wings we work in, as well as being subject to the regulations and directives of the states and counties we live in, Edmilao said. “For example, in Colorado where COVID-19 rates are presently quite high, we are under a strict state mandate that prohibits private social gatherings; it has also seen the shutdown of in-restaurant dining, bar closures and shuttering of other non-essential businesses.”

Christmas will be a smaller affair in the family but they can go out to local attractions like Pike’s Peak and the Front Range Mountains.

“Christmas is always a special time for our family, so I would typically spend it with Tracy and our family,” he said. “Military life sees us living in so many different places. With a lot of my postings having been in Ontario, and with our respective families on different coasts, it has been difficult to see everyone during the holidays. In the past, we have visited Vancouver or Pictou County for Christmas, but for the most part we stay home celebrating with each other. With all the travel restrictions this year, we will be taking advantage of technology and having more virtual get-togethers.”

Edmilao was about five when his family moved from the Philippines to Canada. His parents, Dong and Linda, still live in Langley.

He will be stationed in Colorado Springs until summer 2022. This time of year in Colorado brings lots of snow and cold temperatures.

“It’s definitely different,” Edmilao said. “Having grown up in the Fraser Valley, I remember lots of wet, foggy and green Christmases. I do remember a few white Christmases but nothing like winters in Ontario, or winter here in Colorado! I have great memories of Christmas in BC, but there’s something to be said about a nice blanket of snow around Christmas, dog walks along trails with snow-capped mountains almost close enough to touch, is pretty magical! It’s all what you make of it.”

The holidays, particularly spending them in a picture-postcard Christmas setting like Colorado, has him introspective.

“I reflect on my last year of leading fellow Canadians during an unprecedented time in history, I can’t help at think about home and what it means to me. While not perfect, Canada embodies the ideals that I personally hold dear and so I will continue to serve with pride – the Maple Leaf on my uniform – because I know it symbolizes so much to so many here, back home and around the world.”

NORAD is the organization created by the United States and Canada to protect them from external threats. It grew out of the Cold War with the Communist world and though the USSR has broken up and the world has changed geopolitically, NORAD still plays a role.

“The defence of Canada and the U.S. is NORAD’s number one priority,” he said. “The Command’s mission is constantly being refined to adapt to changing or emerging threats. It has changed over the past decades to include a focus on domestic airborne threats and the addition of a maritime warning mission.”

The Canadian unit within NORAD is spread over 14 locations in the Continental U.S., and Alaska, as well as Greenland. He is one of seven Canadian COs within the Canadian unit of NORAD but is the only one considered a base commander. Like Santa, NORAD is monitoring 24/7.

The 51-year-old is a logistics officer with a specialty in human resources so Edmilao not only looks after the military personnel stationed there but also their families. He is commanding officer (CO) of the Canadian Forces Support Unit in Colorado Springs as well as being the CO for the Canadian Armed Forces personnel in Colorado Springs.

He passed along warm holiday greetings to everyone back in his hometown and a final thought.

“I would ask all your readers to spare a moment to think of those Canadian military personnel who are deployed and could not be home this Christmas with their families, as well as those fighting right here at home as we work together to defeat COVID.”

.


Got a news tip?

Email: heather.colpitts@langleyadvancetimes.com
Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

ChristmasMilitary

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao, in his uniform for the Royal Military College, spent Christmas as a young man, with family, including his sisters, Sarah and Teresa, at the family home in Langley. (Edmilao family/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao, in his uniform for the Royal Military College, spent Christmas as a young man, with family, including his sisters, Sarah and Teresa, at the family home in Langley. (Edmilao family/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Emma Walton, Tracey Walton and Apollo Edmilao visited a church on Kona during a family trip. (Edmilao photo/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Emma Walton, Tracey Walton and Apollo Edmilao visited a church on Kona during a family trip. (Edmilao photo/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East, and taking part in ramp ceremonies when soldiers bodies are returned to Canada. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East, and taking part in ramp ceremonies when soldiers bodies are returned to Canada. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Apollo Edmilao has served in various locales, including the Middle East. (Apollo Edmilao/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Just Posted

The map shows the number of COVID-19 cases for the week of April 25 to May 1. The darkest areas indicate communities with a daily average of more than 20 cases per 100,000 population. (BC Centre of Disease Control)
Surrey and Abbotsford battle for top COVID hotspot in Fraser Health

Two communities are among areas across province showing highest transmission

teaser
Top-10 ‘Maxim’ magazine contest model got her start in Surrey

Kajal Kumar hopes to earn $25K cash prize and a cover photo shoot

Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order, at this Highway 3 check area near Manning Park. Photo RCMP
RCMP begin stopping drivers on B.C. highways – checkpoint at Manning Park

Four checkpoints are set up Thursday, May 6 around the province

A woman walks past a long lineup that snaked through the parking lot at the Cloverdale Rec. Centre April 27 after Fraser Health allowed people age 30 and over from “high-transmission neighbourhoods” to access the AstraZeneca shot. The temporary vaccination centre is located on the Cloverdale Fairgrounds. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Cloverdale now considered a ‘high-transmission area’

Anyone 30 and over can now register for a vaccine

Ocean Athletics’ Roy Jiang – a senior at Southridge School – will study, run track and play clarinet at the California Institute of Technology beginning this fall. (Gordon Kalisch/Fast Track Sports Photography)
‘Triple-threat’ Southridge School student runs toward CalTech

Roy Jiang will compete on track team, play in the university’s symphony and study bioengineering

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The postponement of the event was put in place to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

Ally Thomas, 12, seen in an undated family handout photo, died on April 14 from a suspected overdose. Her family says they are frustrated more public supports weren't available when they tried to get her help. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Minister says suspected overdose death of 12-year-old pushing B.C. to ‘do better’

Minister Sheila Malcolmson of Mental Health and Addictions says the government is working ‘as hard as we can’ to build a system of care for youths

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

Most Read