Moses Sanchez

Moses Sanchez gets a big hug from a well wisher during his return home from a break during his current Afghanistan tour. Jan 14, 2012. Darryl Webb/AFN

Darryl Webb

Moses Sanchez interacted on a daily basis with members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He was assigned to men designated with the highest threat level by the United States of America.

But that was in the past - as in about two weeks ago, while he was still stationed in Afghanistan.

Saturday night was his homecoming party. The Ahwatukee Foothills resident was surrounded by his friends and family on the patio at Va Bene Italian Cuisine Wine Bar.

For a man whose job it was to build a relationship with dangerous men - terrorists and, worse, murderers - the evening was a little overwhelming at first.

"Pensive is the word that comes to mind," said Sanchez's wife, Dr. Maria Manriquez. "He was saying words that I have never heard him say, like ‘anxiety.' He's always been the extrovert."

But this is his home, he said, and always will be.

"Seeing your family, hugging your kids, being around family and friends, that's what you're thinking the whole time you're over there," Sanchez said. "I was thinking, I can't wait to be in my house and sit on my sofa."

Sanchez, a Navy man, spent nine months at a military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, where he worked in COIN, or counter-insurgency.

His job was to get the terrorists to open up to him. His job was to analyze.

"Part of building that rapport was being their friend, I wasn't their friend, but they kind of looked at me like that," Sanchez said.

His subsequent recognition shows he was pretty successful. Over the course of his observations of the detainees, which numbered more than 3,000 strong at the center, he picked up on some things. His findings went all the way to the Secretary of Defense.

"The three-star general who is in charge of the entire Middle East, he came down to our office because he wanted to know who created this (analysis)," Sanchez said. "He said he had to report it to the Sec-Def tonight."

His analysis could have saved lives. In the three days after Ramadan, guards see a boost in violent attacks, Sanchez said. Last year, they had 1,000 detainees and 400 violent attacks in the days after the holiday.

This year that number climbed to 3,000 detainees and they expected 1,200 attacks. With Sanchez's analysis on detainee relationships, there were only 80 attacks for the entire month after Ramadan.

For his accomplishments, individually and with his unit, Sanchez received 10 medals.

"With the analysis, we moved certain people to certain places," he said. "That's why the general came down, he wanted to know how I determined who were the leaders in the groups."

Sanchez returned to Ahwatukee Foothills last Wednesday after first traveling to Kuwait, and then California. He is picking up where he left off in February 2011, before he was deployed, and return to his job as an economics professor at South Mountain Community College.

"I'm just teaching one class, taking it little by little," Sanchez said.

His current tour is done, but he will have to face another decision next year around this time - whether or not he will reenlist.

"I'm not thinking that far ahead yet," Sanchez said. "I want to enjoy my time here and not have to worry."

His family echoed his sentiment.

"I didn't get excited until like two days before, than I was like freaking out," daughter Shannon Gilpin, 17, said. "I think what I missed most was him coming to my activities, going to get lunch, and just being my dad."

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