FORWARD OPERATING BASE GRIFFIN, Afghanistan – The Grand Canyon, a mile-deep chasm twisting for more than 270 miles through the state of Arizona, attracts millions of visitors from around the world to it every year.
Spc. Mashal Sanchez, a linguist with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, dreamed about his visit from the day he first learned of the canyon in his 8th-grade English book.
“Since then, I have always wanted go there,” he said. “I finally got to take my Family when we drove from Virginia to California.”
Born in Kabul, Sanchez’s mother is a high school history teacher and his father is a colonel in the Afghan National Army.
“I didn’t grow up in a traditional Afghan family,” he said. “My parents always encouraged us to learn more.”
After graduating from high school, Sanchez attended Kabul Polytechnic University while working full-time as an interpreter at Camp Alamo.
“I worked with the military police for a little bit, and then I worked with the U.S. military intelligence,” he explained.
For nearly five years, he worked with several U.S. Army units before finally receiving a special immigration visa to the United States with the help of the many American officers with whom he worked. In June 2008, Sanchez packed up his family and moved to Alexandria, Va.
“We lived with my cousin,” Sanchez said. “He knew the way. I didn’t have a credit card or credit history, so he co-signed for our first apartment.”
Over the next year, Sanchez taught English classes and worked as a role-player at the National Training Center located at Fort Irwin, Calif.
Neither of these satisfied his need to re-pay the Army for the great gift he was given.
“I had to pay back the Army for what I was given,” he said of the immigration visa he was granted.
After taking a month off from work to spend time with his Family, Sanchez found himself doing countless push-ups, carrying an M-16 rifle everywhere, and going with little sleep during basic combat training and advanced individual training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
While moving his Family to his permanent duty station at Fort Irwin, Calif., Sanchez finally had his chance to experience the wonder of the Grand Canyon.
“It was exactly what I saw in the pictures,” he said. “It was so amazing. I didn’t even realize how far we had walked. I would love to go back someday.”
He spent only a few months in California before reporting to Fort Drum on a brisk North Country day in March. Now with 3-6 FA, Sanchez said he feels as though he is a member of the “Centaur” Family.
“My job as an interpreter at KMTC, and my job now is pretty much the same, but now I feel like I’m part of a team,” he said. “I have much more confidence in what I’m doing now, and … I have a purpose. Having this uniform on gives me so much pride.”
Sanchez is one of several Soldiers in the 1st BCT (who) can speak the Afghan language fluently. Currently, he serves as the “eyes and ears” for Lt. Col. Kyle Marsh, 3-6 FA commander.
“Translating now is more important to me now than as a civilian,” Sanchez said. “I enjoy going out with the commander.”
Like many young Soldiers, Sanchez says he’s not sure of what the future holds, but he hopes it involves the Army.
“My ultimate goal is to become an officer in intelligence,” he said. “I think my language could really help me as an intel officer.”
Before receiving his commission, however, he has many other personal goals to achieve, such as learning to swim.
“I want to go to all the Army schools I can – like Ranger, Airborne and Air Assault school,” he said. “It’s personal. Of course, everyone wants all those badges on their uniform, but I want to prove to myself I can do it. I love the challenge.”
With a long-term goal to one day move the rest of his Family to the United States, he currently is focused on contributing to the 3-6 FA mission in the Faryab Province and the U.S. Army’s mission in Afghanistan.