The Peruvian Army School of Psychological Operations started an unprecedented pilot program to strengthen the troops’ moral values on July 1, 2018. The semester-long program precedes the Army’s national campaign, A Better Citizen.
Meant for officers who will graduate in December, the program is carried out in several facilities of the Army in Lima, such as Chorrillos Military School and the Peruvian Army Technical School. Its goal: to adjust the campaign strategy and provide officers with the tools necessary to pass on the message to the troops, all while stimulating their own moral values.
The army’s objective is to create a virtuous cycle to help improve Peruvian society. It is estimated that the campaign will reach 20,000 soldiers per year and that each will be able to influence at least 10 people around them.
“In the last 40 years, society as a whole has undergone a crisis in values,” Colonel Jorge Reyes Gutiérrez, commandant of the Peruvian Army School of Psychological Operations, told Diálogo. “In our case, we had to deal with terrorism and the economic crisis. Due to a lack of good role models, some people opted for the wrong path. This gave rise to the image of drug traffickers and terrorists.”
Author of the campaign
From the beginning of his career, Major General Oscar de Jesús Reto Otero, chief of the General Staff of the Peruvian Army, enjoyed chatting with new soldiers to understand what they longed for—a good position, enduring relationships, and helping others. Throughout the years, the spontaneous talks turned into an increasingly concrete vision: Soldiers and their values could positively impact those around them and society.
As such, Maj. Gen. Reto started to give informal, educational talks to officers and noncommissioned officers that led to the creation of the moral value campaign, A Better Citizen. Developed by the Peruvian Army School of Psychological Operations, the campaign kicks off in 2019.
“In his eagerness to close the loop, [Maj. Gen. Reto] came in February  to talk about his concern,” Col. Reyes said. “He saw that the School of Psychological Operations was the ideal entity to provide scientific support to the work we will carry out and the time it will take—what we can transmit and how we will transmit it.”
A repetitive system
The School of Psychological Operations opened in 1994 in the district of Santiago de Surco, Lima. The first basic psychological operations program, however, was taught in 1984 at the Army’s premises.
With the support of the school’s experts—anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and journalists—Maj. Gen. Reto and Col. Reyes identified ways to reinforce good habits in the troops, so these could be passed on to relatives and friends. The model, in its adjustment phase, is based on repetition. According to a 2009 study of University College London, habits are forged in about 66 days.
“We’ve come to a rigorous, deliberate model,” Col. Reyes said. “With that corroborated time frame and repetitive system, we looked for free time or psychological spaces we could use within soldiers’ training to get the message across.”
The officers found seven daily moments in which to reinforce service members’ habits. They will work on self-esteem orally—through prayers, mottoes, and readings from officers in charge—and through actions when fulfilling their duties.
“We will work on self-esteem, which is very low,” Col. Reyes said. “That explains family violence, femicides [...] that’s normal in societies that have gone through periods of generalized violence.”
Good soldiers, better citizens
Officials in charge of the campaign estimate the results will be visible in three years. They stressed that the support of section commanders will be essential to attain the expected results. “They are the ones out there day by day, always with [soldiers], like I used to be when I was second lieutenant,” Maj. Gen. Reto said.
As part of the project, officers enrolled at the School of Psychological Operations will take part in a communications course at San Martin de Porres University in Lima. The two-month course, ending in September, will allow officers to develop products around the theme of soldiers as agents of change in society.
Each year, the School of Psychological Operations collaborates with the schools of Communication of local universities to train psychological operators in this field. Thanks to the partnership, service members gain the technical tools to be able to transmit information.
During its 24 years, the school has come a long way, focusing its efforts on training service members and widening its reach to civil institutions and society. In 2018, the school had yet another first: an unprecedented course for the Peruvian National Police (PNP), which took place April 16th–May 26th.
PNP officers who fight against narcoterrorism in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley (VRAEM, in Spanish), took part in the Special Course for PNP Personnel deployed with the VRAEM Psychological Operations Team. With this training, PNP units will be better prepared to face the challenges of organized crime and protect the people.
In the coming months, Maj. Gen. Reto and Col. Reyes will analyze the advances of the pilot program and set the final details. Officers of the School of Psychological Operations started talks with the Peruvian Navy, Air Force, and National Police to replicate the model in their institutions. The campaign, they said, will serve as a catalyst for social change.
“My vision is to have good soldiers, better citizens,” Maj. Gen. Reto concluded. “They should not only practice values, but also demand them. If this continues to grow, we will be able to demand that our authorities, who we elect, do what they have offered to do.”