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

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan (left) and Kairry Nguyen on Jan. 27, 2020 after Tenessa Nikirk was found guilty for striking Bui in a Saanich crosswalk. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Driver convicted of dangerous driving after hitting Leila Bui out on bail

Tennesa Nikirk was convicted for striking then 11-year-old Leila Bui with her car

Royal B.C. Museum conservator Megan Doxsey-Whitfield kneels next to a carved stone pillar believed to have significance as a First Nations cultural marker by local Indigenous people. The pillar was discovered on the beach at Dallas Road last summer. Museum curatorial staff have been working with Songhees and Esquimalt Nation representatives to gain a clearer picture of its use. (Photo courtesy Royal BC Museum)
Stone carving found on Victoria beach confirmed as Indigenous ritual pillar

Discussion underway with the Esquimalt and Songhees about suitable final home for the artifact

The Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre will once again be transformed into temporary sheltering for 45 individuals starting in March. (Courtesy of the B.C. Government)
Temporary shelter to resume at Victoria Save-On-Foods arena in March

BC Housing signed lease with GSL Group from Feb. 1 to May 30

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in Juan de Fuca Strait

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

Victoria police are seeking a young woman suspected of spitting on a bus driver in October 2020. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
VIDEO: Young woman sought after ‘spitting assault’ on Victoria bus driver

Suspect became irate after bus came to a sudden stop

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addresses the media during a news conference at the BC Centre of Disease Control in Vancouver B.C. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
B.C. announces 485 new COVID-19 cases, fewest deaths in months

‘The actions we take may seem small, but will have a big impact to stop the virus,” urges Dr. Henry

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Jan. 26

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(B.C. government photo)
POLL: Would you like to see restrictions on travel to B.C. from other provinces?

With a host of more virulent strains of COVID-19 appearing across the… Continue reading

Former Vancouver Giants forward Evander Kane is seen here in Game 7 of the second round of the 2009 WHL playoffs against the Spokane Chiefs (Sam Chan under Wikipedia Commons licence)
Gambling debts revealed in details of bankruptcy filing by hockey star Evander Kane

Sharks left winger and former Vancouver Giants player owes close to $30 million total

Othman “Adam” Hamdan, pictured in front of Christina Lake’s Welcome Centre, was acquitted of terrorism related charges in 2017. He has been living in Christina Lake since November 2020. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Man acquitted on terrorism charges awaits deportation trial while living in Kootenays

Othman Ayed Hamdan said he wants to lead a normal life while he works on his upcoming book

B.C. Premier John Horgan wears a protective face mask to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 prior to being sworn in by The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia during a virtual swearing in ceremony in Victoria, Thursday, November 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Premier Horgan calls jumping COVID vaccine queue ‘un-Canadian’

Horgan says most people in B.C. are doing their best to follow current public health guidelines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart share a laugh while speaking to the media before sitting down for a meeting at City Hall, in Vancouver, on Friday August 30, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Vancouver mayor, Health Canada to formally discuss drug decriminalization

Kennedy Stewart says he’s encouraged by the federal health minister’s commitment to work with the city

Downtown Fernie is pictured after a snowfall.
B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at B.C. legislature on the province’s mass vaccination plan for COVID-19, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 quarantine not an option for B.C., John Horgan says

Apres-ski parties increase risk, not interprovincial travel

Most Read