The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.

The Airborne Tri Team was created to help veterans face and conquer their physical and mental struggles through physical fitness, but it has grown into much more than that.

Founder Ron Hurtado, a paratrooper and Master Sergeant in the United States Army Civil Affairs, has taken the Airborne Tri Team around the world, making mission trips with veterans to help disadvantaged communities. The focus is on the youth population, concentrating efforts in Central America and most recently, Nicaragua, where Hurtado is from.

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography

Over four days, Hurtado, with the help of his family, distributed clothes, food and toys to the youth of Nicaragua. He also coordinated two baseball games for kids in Managua, the capital, where he spent the early years of his life. Other team members were unable to make the trip because of Covid-19 restrictions. In place of team members, Hurtado’s family stepped in to help. 

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography

On the first day, Hurtado, his cousin and his half-sister drove out to a church in Tipitapa, a rural town in the West of Nicaragua, to deliver much-needed food and clothes. The church, made of tin sheets and skinny tree trunks, is where the community gathers to pray, sing and hold ceremonies.

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography

The next day was Ron’s 40th birthday. With the help of his family, he loaded up a rental car with toys, food and Airborne Tri Team gear and drove throughout his hometown of Managua, distributing everything to the youth in the area. Children were chasing his car through the streets, shouting with excitement and relishing in the gifts they would have otherwise never seen.

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography
The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography

The last two days of the trip, Hurtado organized baseball games for the youth in Managua. Local kids gathered at a park to compete against one another, using abandoned pizza boxes and tree branches as plate markers because fields were inaccessible. Nobody kept score, instead, the children simply played, talked trash to each other and enjoyed the day.

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography
The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography
The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography

When I asked Hurtado why he was doing all of this, he replied: “Why not?” 

Later, over tequila, he would tell me, “When I’m helping other people, I feel like I’m making the world a better place. Even if it’s small, I want these kids to see that they can also make a difference when they grow up.”

The Airborne Tri Team: Operation Nicaragua 2021 by Thomas Hengge.
Photo: Thomas Hengge Photography
Thomas Hengge is a photojournalist and documentarian based in New York. Get to know him better with us at IMAGO or via his instagram: @thomashengge.

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