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

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin makes preparations at Toronto’s mass vaccination clinic, Jan. 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
3 deaths, 234 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

One death connected to outbreak at Kamloops’ Royal Inland Hospital, where 20 patients and 28 staff have tested positive

Salmon Arm’s Halle Krawczyk gives a thumbs up following surgery on Jan. 22 in Pittsburgh, her second of three battling an extremely rare form of cancer that formed tumours on her two upper vertebrae and the clivus behind the nose. (Contributed)
‘Absolutely perfect:’ Salmon Arm girl’s surgeries for tumour exceed expectations

Halle Krawczyk doing well, mom credits hundreds of people praying for making the difference

Salmon Arm RCMP search a property in the 700 block of Grandview Bench Road in March 2019, assisting Edmonton police with an investigation that led to the arrest of a Salmon Arm man man who was charged in relation to an Edmonton bank robbery and a related explosions. (File photo)
Salmon Arm man accused in Edmonton bank explosions in court for weapon offences

Local provincial court appearances for charges including possessing weapon for dangerous purpose

From left, city workers Hugh Bennett, Chris Carr and Teneal Crossman secure the fountain they’ve just removed from McGuire Lake back in October 2020 before the ice moved in. (File photo)
Salmon Arm, CUPE local reach five-year deal with city staff, RCMP clerks

Agreement includes two per cent wage hike for each of five years in agreement

RCMP cruiser
Residents help RCMP track fleeing driver in North Shuswap

Police stop vehicle with spike belt, Chase man arrested

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Heather Barker. (File)
Manslaughter charge laid in Vernon woman’s 2018 death

Shaun Ross Wiebe, 43, faces manslaughter and assault charges related to the death of Heather Barker

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

Kamloops This Week.
48 COVID-19 cases and one death associated with outbreak at Kamloops hospital

One of the 20 patients infected has died, meanwhile 28 staff with COVID-19 are isolating at home

The City of Vernon is sending a letter to the provincial government to request that church be deemed an essential service amid the pandemic. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Vernon mayor scolded for revealing stance on making church essential

Coun. Scott Anderson calls Cummings’ actions ‘arrogant’

The scene of a serious crash on Highway 33 in Kelowna that killed one and severely injured two others on June 20, 2018. (File)
Driver found guilty of causing death, injury in 2018 Kelowna crash

Travis Ryan Hennessy will face sentencing at a later date

(Michael Rodriguez - Capital News staff)
Downtown stairwell fire suspicious, Kelowna RCMP say

Crews were called to Gotham Nightclub for a report of a stairwell fire

Rolling seven-day average of cases by B.C. health authority to Jan. 21. Fraser Health in purple, Vancouver Coastal red, Interior Health orange, Northern Health green and Vancouver Island blue. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
2nd COVID vaccine doses on hold as B.C. delivery delayed again

New COVID-19 cases slowing in Fraser Health region

Head Brewer Kody Rosentreter, owner Wes Greve and taproom manager Lisa Deleo celebrated North Basin Brewing’s grand opening Jan. 22 and 23, 2020. (Contributed)
Osoyoos’ first microbrewery celebrates grand opening

The brewery hopes to show that the Okanagan is more than just wine country

Most Read