WASHINGTON -- Santa Claus won't be trading in his sleigh for a Blackhawk helicopter any time soon: The Army is enforcing a little-known rule banning its chopper pilots from flying anyone dressed as Saint Nick.
Not only that, but Santa cannot parachute from any Army aircraft, officials reminded pilots in an internal newsletter this month.
"If your unit gets a request to fly Santa or to provide a paratrooper to be Santa and make a grand entrance to the local tree-lighting ceremony, you will have to decline," the Army ordered.
The Army rule also bans helicopter pilots from carrying as passengers "Easter bunnies, witches or any other holiday-related character."
The Army's chief of policy for public affairs, Ed Spells explained that the regulation was "just a matter of propriety - everybody doesn't believe in Santa Claus." He also said flying around Santa was "not the best way to spend taxpayer dollars."
Spells said the Army receives several such requests every few years and declines them all. But the Army isn't being Grinch-like, he said.
"Soldiers are regular Americans," Spells said. "We celebrate like everyone else does. Our bands do holiday concerts, we support various activities, charitable organizations. We have holiday decorations."
Lt. Col. Cindy Henry of the Army Safety Center, which published the reminder about the Santa ban, said the military also worries about frightening children if a helicopter went down with Santa on board.
"Certainly we wouldn't want to traumatize a group of schoolchildren because Santa Claus was on an aircraft that crashes," she said. "The reality is, we do have accidents."
The no-Santa rule is included within 107 pages of regulations that govern how the Army deals with the public. The rules also prohibit, for example, soldiers from participating in civilian beauty pageants or movie premieres.