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NORAD tracks Santa, critics track NORAD

In this Dec. 2012 file photo, NORAD Deputy Commander Lt. General Alain Parent, center, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, takes phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their house, during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Also fielding calls are U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, left, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Chris Bendig. The U.S. and Canadian military will entertain millions of kids again this Christmas Eve with second-by-second updates on Santa’s global whereabouts. AP photo

In this Dec. 2012 file photo, NORAD Deputy Commander Lt. General Alain Parent, center, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, takes phone calls from children asking where Santa is and when he will deliver presents to their house, during the annual NORAD Tracks Santa Operation, at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, at Peterson Air Force Base, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Also fielding calls are U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, left, and U.S. Air Force Maj. Chris Bendig. The U.S. and Canadian military will entertain millions of kids again this Christmas Eve with second-by-second updates on Santa’s global whereabouts. AP photo

DENVER — The U.S. and Canadian military will entertain millions of kids again this Christmas Eve with second-by-second updates on Santa’s global whereabouts. But there’s something new this year: public criticism.

A children’s advocacy group says an animated video on the NORAD Tracks Santa website injects militarism into Christmas by showing fighter jets escorting Santa’s sleigh. It’s a rare swipe at the popular program, which last year attracted a record 22.3 million unique visitors from around the world to its website.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command defends the video as nonthreatening and safe for kids.

The kerfuffle erupted two weeks ago over a 39-second video on noradsanta.org called “NORAD Tracks Santa Trailer Video 2013.”

A 5-second segment of the video — which is also available on youtube.com — shows two fighter jets flanking Santa.

The Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood said the video brings violence and militarism to a beloved tradition. Others had similar criticism. Blogs and Twitter lit up with volleys from both sides. U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a NORAD spokesman, said he understands the critics’ point of view but disagrees.

“We really do feel strongly that it’s something that is safe and non-threatening, and not something that would negatively impact children,” he said. “In fact, we think that it’s a lot of fun.”

And he insisted the fighters in the video are unarmed: They’re Canadian Air Force CF-18s, with a large external fuel tank under the belly that might look like a bomb. The wing racks that would carry bombs or missiles are empty, he explained.

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