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IMA is voice of NORAD Tracks Santa

  • Published
  • Headquarters Individual Reservist Readiness and Integration Organization

When Lt. Col. Karl Fruendt’s four children were younger, they had a family tradition of tracking Santa on his Christmas Eve journey around the globe on NORAD Tracks Santa.

The children have outgrown the Santa Tracker, but Fruendt now helps others experience his family’s tradition by lending his time and voice talent to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)-led service.

Fruendt, who is now an Individual Mobilization Augmentee assigned to U.S. Northern Command as a joint logistics planner at NORAD, moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2011 when he took a new Active Guard Reserve position there. He first volunteered to support the NORAD Tracks Santa in 2012, which relies on about 1,500 volunteers every year. The logistics officer told the NORAD Tracks Santa public affairs team he could help by operating a booth outside official holiday concerts at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

He did five events the first year, handing out tchotchkes and promotional materials touting the service. He continued in 2013 but was also invited on-stage during the musical performances to narrate the history of NORAD Tracks Santa.

Fruednt would tell of how the program began by accident, in 1955, when an advertising misprint in a Colorado Springs newspaper directed children to call the Continental Air Defense Command’s operations center for information on Santa. Instead of sending them away, Col. Harry Shoup, who came to be known as the Santa Colonel, had his operators find the location of Santa Claus and report to each child who phoned in that night.

Following Fruendt’s monologue, Santa would come out and visit with the children. The Reservist has continued doing this every year since. When his AGR tour ended in 2015, he transferred from the Air National Guard to the Air Force Reserve’s Individual Reserve program doing essentially the same job he was doing as an AGR Guardsman.

IMAs are Air Force Reservists assigned to backfill positions at active-component organizations. Unlike Traditional Reservists, who drill on a monthly basis, IMAs work with their active-duty units to create a custom work schedule. This arrangement offers greater flexibility for members who need to balance other demands on their time or who have a desire to pursue goals like education or a civilian career. IMAs can also support the active component on full-time, active-duty orders.

These factors, along with the job vacancy, brought Fruendt to the IMA program. His assignment allows him to continue his support to NORAD on a full-time basis, provides additional flexibility in his personal life and also allows him to support NORAD Tracks Santa during the holidays.

When the media team was looking for voice talent to support the Santa Tracker website, Fruendt was a natural choice. According to 1st Lt. Lauren Hill, from the NORAD Public Affairs office, Fruendt is always willing to help out. Since arriving on station, he has become the voice of NORAD/USNORTHCOM, often narrating official events, and always willing to support NORAD Tracks Santa.

The trained broadcaster, who spent 10 years in radio and television news in Topeka, Kansas, has a crisp, smooth delivery, and just a hint of a Midwestern accent. He also served as an enlisted motion media specialist (the predecessor to combat camera) with the Kansas Air National Guard from 1989 until he commissioned as a public affairs officer in 1997.

Armed with those credentials, Fruendt entered the NORAD public affairs office’s recording studio in 2014 to cut audio tracks for a number of video clips used on the Santa Tracker website. Since then, he’s recorded the audio for all of the English-language clips used by the Santa Tracker website, about 20 in total, and is always willing to update the voice track as scripts change.

The videos and voiceovers are just a small piece of the NORAD Tracks Santa operation, though. Hill, who is also the volunteer coordinator for NORAD Tracks Santa, said the organization is run by NORAD and supported by pro-bono donations from 51 companies and charities which donate everything from web and app development time to hardware, like the computers in their call center. That call center opens at 4 a.m. (MST) on Christmas Eve and will have as many as 164 volunteers working at any given time. Hill will cycle almost 1,600 volunteers through the center during the 24-hours of Dec. 24. Last year the center received more than 100 calls a minute from all over the globe, while the website received 22 million hits in 2015.

For his part, Fruendt is happy to play his role in the overall operation.

“When I was given the opportunity to tell the story of NORAD Tracks Santa, I couldn’t have been happier and I am proud to have the chance to help carry on the tradition of the last 60 years,” he said.