USO Joint Expeditionary Team Supports Marines during Exercise Nordic Response

USO staff members are celebrated for their welcoming smiles at every USO center worldwide. They not only maintain these spaces with care, but also prioritize the well-being of the men and women of the U.S. military, offering them a secure environment to relax and recharge. What often goes unnoticed are the additional responsibilities these dedicated staff members undertake to ensure all service members receive support.

A service member volunteer cooks lunch while in Norway. | Photo credit USO Photo

One of these additional duties includes the USO Joint Expeditionary Team (JET). This team journeys to remote and challenging locations, ensuring USO programming and amenities are accessible to every member of the U.S. military no matter where the mission takes them.

USO staff members, Luisa Mazzella and Allie Thrift, embarked on a week-long JET Mission to snowy Norway to lift the spirits of the U.S. Marines stationed there for Exercise Nordic Response, a vital part of NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 initiative. This journey, filled with unexpected twists and moments of camaraderie, highlights the commitment of the USO to uplift and support those who serve far from home.

“I feel so blessed and honored to be on this trip and plant the USO flag in Norway. I love supporting deployed service members on a daily basis, but this seems a little more special,” said Allie. “You can tell from the smiles on all the Marines’ faces that our support really means the world to them and those smiles mean the world to me.”


Marines in Norway participate in a Polar Plunge Challenge. | Photo credit USO Photo

The adventure kicked off in Oslo, where anticipation mixed with meticulous planning. JET members geared up to support the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. As plans consistently shifted to accommodate the tight schedule, the team remained undeterred, demonstrating resilience in the face of challenges.

After a four-hour snowy drive, Luisa and Allie arrived in Andøya, a secluded military base and got to work setting up USO programming. U.S. service members and foreign troops were able to connect and establish bonds during a polar plunge and a warrior meal. After Marines dried off, the USO provided hot cocoa, fried Oreos and fun activities like group trivia, push-up challenges and gaming. These men and women were also given the opportunity to participate in the USO Reading Program, where they shared heartfelt stories with their loved ones at home.

At a table where service members of all nationalities were sitting together, one of the Norwegian soldiers asked a U.S. Marine what the USO was. The young Marine responded: “They came to Norway just for us.”

The USO Reading Program allows service members the chance to stay connected to loved ones while far from home. | Photo credit USO Photo

Evenes Air Station

Adapting to quickly changing military schedules, the USO team made a stop at Evenes Air Station, the primary base for the Royal Norwegian Air Force, on their way to Setermoen.

Colonel James T. Bardo, Marine Aircraft Group 14 Commanding Officer, and his team welcomed them both with gratitude and thanked them for the visit. Allie and Luisa visited the Marines on duty, handing out fresh pastries and USO branded beanies before loading the vehicle up and heading out again.


The USO brings support to Marines in Norway during Exercise Nordic Response. | Photo credit USO Photo

Despite a snowstorm, the USO’s two-day warm welcome in Setermoen brought over 180 Marines together for laughter and fun. On day one, Allie and Luisa organized engaging activities like an outdoor barbecue, super smash bros tournaments and movies – these events brought everyone out of the snow and into the warmth of the USO to dethaw and create friendships.

The second day in Setermoen, Norway started with a scene that embodies the austerity of expeditionary - the entrance to the building obscured by a dense, foot-deep blanket of snow. Once they cleared the entry, service members played dodgeball, minute-to-win challenges and video game tournaments. When everyone wasn’t playing, they were indulging in an American-style hot dog BBQ and USO signature fried Oreos.

1st Sergeant Merrit of the U.S. Marines expressed gratitude for the visit and all the amazing support the USO provided his units.

Vernes Air Station

Allie Thrift, USO Center Manager, serves lunch to Marines at Vernes Air Station. | Photo credit USO Photo

The expeditionary team continued to follow the exercise and packed up the van again to continue on to Vernes Air Station, nestled in the scenic municipality of Stjørdal in Trøndelag county, Norway. As the smell of BBQ hung in the air, the USO pulled out all the stops to make sure over 150 Marines had fun after a busy workday. Men and women competed in physical challenges and put their PT skills to the test, sang their favorite songs during a karaoke party and showcased their knowledge in intense trivia competitions.

Thank you for the special world-class treatment of our Marines and Sailors,” said Col Brian Mullery before Allie and Luisa left. “We are grateful for your service to our best efforts serving abroad.

Tank Camp

The two-week expeditionary journey came to an end with a visit to Tank Camp, where men and women had been stationed since January and were overjoyed to connect with the USO.

Service members have fun with karaoke and the USO at Tank Camp. | Photo credit USO Photo

“Today, the USO provided the Marines and Sailors of the NR24 AAOG with a well-deserved morale boost,” said Major Ashley E. Pulido. “Their trip to Norway allowed our Marines the opportunity to relax and enjoy themselves as we prepare for the final push in our deployment.”

Spirits were lifted with fun activities and a Marine’s promotion to Corporal. The atmosphere was charged with excitement as the day unfolded, with activities ranging from burpee challenges to a sing-off competition.

“Our troops sacrifice so much, and being able to bring them even a moment of happiness is incredible rewarding,” said Luisa. “The overwhelming support and warm welcome we received showcased the profound affection and appreciation for the USO’s mission. Getting to represent our organization in such a meaningful way is truly a privilege.”

From Oslo to Vernes Air Station, the USO team witnessed the profound impact of human connection on morale and resilience. Despite the distance and challenges, their presence lifted spirits of service members far from home, leaving a lasting impact that resonates far beyond the journey’s end.

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