Peru’s Commando School
By Dialogo October 01, 2011
On December 17, 1996, 14 members of the terrorist organization Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) seized the Japanese Embassy in Lima. With hundreds of guests in attendance for the Japanese emperor’s birthday celebration, the terrorists infiltrated the compound and took everyone hostage. As the hours wore on, dozens of hostages – including all the women – were permitted to leave until 72 hostages remained (see sidebar).
The next day, top military leaders devised a plan to retrieve the remaining hostages. For a span of four months, 140 Peruvian Commandos trained, prepared and rehearsed for what was to become the most successful rescue operation in the history of Peru. Operation Chavín de Huántar went into effect on April 22, 1997, when the Commandos stormed the embassy and liberated all the hostages. The operation lasted just 30 minutes as the preparation, planning and training came to fruition.
Current director of the Commando School, Colonel José Oliva, explained that the foundation for that training began at the institution. Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the school has been training not only the finest Peruvian Soldiers, but Soldiers from other countries as well, including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
“Our primary mission here at the school is to train our Soldiers to be Commandos,” said Col. Oliva. The school was officially founded in 1961 after the Peruvian Army saw the need to have a Special Forces unit. Fourteen officers were selected to travel to Fort Benning, Georgia, to complete the intense U.S. Army Ranger School. Upon returning to Peru, the officers applied all the training and fundamentals to the first class of cadets, thus creating the first graduating class of Commandos. The Commando School still adheres to the fundamental principles learned at the U.S. Army Ranger School, but the Peruvian Army has adapted it to better fit their needs. Tactical courses such as those to counter terrorism became essential with the rise of the Shining Path and the MRTA in the 1980s.
The six-month course is not for the weak or faint of heart. Peak physical and mental conditioning is paramount for its completion. Enrollment at the officer level typically includes members ranging from 2nd lieutenants to captains, while at the enlisted level the inductees range from staff sergeants to master sergeants. A cadet’s training at the school is divided into three phases: basic, technical and applicable.
At the basic phase, aside from daily physical training, cadets learn the fundamentals of first aid, communications and human rights – an aspect heavily stressed by the school. The technical portion tests the cadets’ physical stamina with trials in water survival, mountaineering, obstacle courses, patrolling and rucksack marches. Failure to complete any portion of this phase will cause the Soldier to be dropped from the school. “Throughout the duration of the course, attrition is a natural factor,” said Col. Oliva. “Typically the average graduating class is around 25 to 30 students after an initial enrollment of 50 or 60.”
During the final phase of the course, cadets apply everything they have learned from Peru’s diverse geography. For example, the mountaineering phase takes place in Peru’s high altitude Huaraz region, located about 420 kilometers north of Lima and 3,052 meters above sea level. Upon completing this trial, the students move on to the jungle phase typically taking place in the Apurímac and Ene Rivers Valley region, a hub for Shining Path activities nowadays.
Cadets who complete the Commando School curricula receive additional specialized training in areas such as sharpshooting/sniper, mountaineering, search and rescue or underwater operations. To complete the entire course and be part of the Commando brotherhood is a matter of honor for these select Soldiers. Their motto is loosely translated to “Being and not seeming,” a reference to not simply boasting of their actions, but carrying out their mission and everything they do as a true Commando Soldier. The Commando School’s hymn states, “Victory is for all our brothers on the field, not just the Commandos.”
“If you ask almost everyone in the Army, most Soldiers would like to be a Commando, but not everyone can be one,” said Col. Oliva. “For me it’s a matter of personal pride to have graduated as a Commando because of everything we learned and went through; it shows what the will of the human spirit is capable of doing.”
Peru’s Daring Rescue Operation
For four months the Soldiers dug through the rocks and cement every day. Dug with very basic tools and equipment in order to minimize the noise. They dug until they finally reached the bottom of the Japanese Embassy, which had been seized by terrorists.
Four months earlier, on the evening of December 17, 1996, members of the Peruvian terrorist organization Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) stormed the residence of Japanese Ambassador Morihisa Aoki as more than 500 guests gathered to celebrate the Japanese Emperor’s birthday. The 14 terrorists, armed with assault rifles, RPGs and grenades, set off two explosions and took the panic-stricken guests hostage.
Over the course of the evening, all the women were released along with dignitaries until 72 hostages remained. They included Japanese authorities and senior officials of Peru’s security forces — including Navy Admiral Luis Giampietri, who would become a key asset for the Peruvian Military through the duration of the hostage crisis.
On December 18, one day after the siege, Operation Chavín de Huántar, in reference to a famous Peruvian archaeological site known for its underground passageways, was put into effect by the Peruvian Government with the utmost secrecy. To prepare for the operation, a life-size replica of the embassy was built at a military base. There, 140 Special Forces Commandos volunteered for the mission and practiced every detail of the operation. Simultaneously, extensive tunnels were being dug from buildings adjacent to the embassy leading to three key points under the Japanese residence where explosives would be placed.
On April 22, 1997, three explosive charges, which had been placed in the underground tunnels, detonated in three different rooms on the first floor. The first explosion hit in the middle of the room where an indoor soccer game was taking place, killing three of the hostage-takers immediately. Through the holes created by the blasts, 30 Commandos stormed the building, chasing the rest of the MRTA members before they reached the second floor.
Two other tactics were deployed at the same time as the explosions. A direct assault from the front of the building by 20 Commandos, joining their comrades who had already entered from underneath the building. A third group of Commandos entered the second floor by climbing up external ladders. The third group then blew up a grenade-proof door on the second floor and began to evacuate the hostages. In the end, all 14 terrorists were killed, as well as two Commandos and one hostage, who died from cardiac arrest after being hit in the femoral artery by shrapnel from a terrorist grenade.
Today, the replica of the embassy used to prepare for the mission has been turned into a museum to honor the success of the operation. April 22 has been declared a national day of remembrance to honor those who died during the Chavín de Huántar Operation.
I would like to belong to the school of command and serve my country. How can I do this? Please help me. Thanks. Our future lies in childhood, in education with values and the primary work is in youth. We must encourage our young people regarding the importance of discipline. That is why we are working so that our army is mixed with educational institutions in order to achieve the upbringing of citizens with values and love of their homeland. I would like to belong to the school of commands and serve my country. How can I? Please help me. Thanks. Please send me a message to my email. I belonged to the Lynx commands in Ayacucho and I am proud to be a command, although I am not currently active. good I'd like to be a special forces commander for my Peruvian army I'd like to know if they also accept women MONITOR COMMAND 41 OF COMMANDO SCHOOL, SPECIALTY AMPHIBIOUS
BEING A SOLDIER IS AN HONOR, BEING COMMANDO A PRIVILEGE; DON'T BE A THIEF, DON'T BE A LIAR, DON'T BE IDLE Does the PNP accept officials or is it only military men that can train there? My name is Ivan Angel Felipe Perez Egoavil, my father was in the Peruvian National Police (PNP) and I was a soldier... I would have liked and would have been excited to be a commando but unfortunately the economic situation of our family didn't allow it in spite of applying... as a young boy I used to watch the commandos with their black cap, I was excited by the idea of growing up and applying... now I work on the streets but I have never given up nor have I fallen into shady stuff, I have always remained correct in my life and now I'm about to have my second child at the age of 40 and I teach them values and I give them the same affection that my parents gave me...if it is his dream to become a command, then I will be ready to help him, and teach him to go forward without looking back but without forgetting his family... hooray for the commands, hooray for the class of 94 wherever you are living life....I love you my beautiful PERU... Well, I would like to know if I can sign up to serve. I am 17 years old I am of a good height and am in shape I would like to know if I would be accepted because I like to serve my country and I want to be a sniper. That is my goal. Hello, combatants I am a commando and regards to all of them it is an honor one of them because you show that the word surrender does not exist and what's impossible the commando you do it or give a quick solution. A commando never dies and if it dies you die in action. How proud I feel for myself and so now you want to be one of them. Just prepare yourself mentally and physically and morally and you will be a winner 2006 graduating class I am at the Grau Piura barracks. I am a gunnery soldier. I want to apply to the military school in Chorrillos Our countrymen are very close to World War Three. This war will decide it all, we cannot lose we should not give in, let us show that Peruvians are not cowardly. Remember: there is no invincible enemy, no long road, limits do not exist, love for country overcomes all, everything for Peru, to the ultimate consequence! If I must die for Peru, so be it! You can get into Officers' School without having served in the military I HEAR MANY PEOPLE SAY: LET'S GIVE OUR ALL FOR PERU, BUT WHO MAKES UP PERU WHEN I THINK ABOUT THIS IMAGES OF PEOPLE COME TO MIND WHO REALLY DON'T VALUE WHAT ONE DOES FOR ONE'S COUNTRY AND I WOULDN'T WANT TO RISK MY LIFE FOR THAT KIND OF PEOPLE. SO IF I'M GOING TO SAY ANYTHING, IT'S THIS: I WILL SERVE IN THE ARMY BECAUSE I WANT TO FROM THE HEART AND I WILL FIGHT BECAUSE I LOVE AND FOR THOSE WHO LOVE OUR COUNTRY. I am in a troop and I would like to take my course Commando Monitor which I need to join. Or what rank do I need to hold to be able to join? Where is the school for commandos located? I wen't to Commando School back in 2002. Got to do a tailgate jump on Mercedes Drop Zone from an An-26 or 32. That school ain't no joke..My battle buddy last name was Comotivos..I loved every minuet in Peru and have mad respect for my Peruvian Brothers in Ist Division Fuerzas Especiales....Airborne All the Way!