State of the Union Guest: Army 1st Lt. Samuel Fortsch of Longmeadow
Army 1st Lt. Samuel P. Fortsch of Longmeadow made his first visit to Washington, D.C., today to watch the State of the Union address as an honored guest of Congressman Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield.
Fortsch is spending a few days away from Fort Campbell in Kentucky, where he has been undergoing daily garrison training since his return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan, to see President Barack Obama’s annual speech to a joint session of Congress.
“To be invited by the Congressman is an extreme honor and I’m obviously privileged to be here,” Fortsch said in a phone interview from Neal’s Washington office before the speech. “My chain of command was very excited.”
Fortsch served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, with Bayonet Troop 1-61 Cavalry Regiment, from March through August 2011, performing reconnaissance and surveillance.
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, urged other members of Congress to participate in a bipartisan initiative to invite Iraq War veterans to the address, Obama’s first since military operations in the country formally ended in December. As of Monday, 13 Democrats and 10 Republicans had done so.
Neal said he invited Fortsch because of Fudge’s suggestion. “We’re delighted he accepted our invitation,” Neal said.
“He’s going to have a chance to see the whole galaxy of the federal government,” Neal said.
“There isn’t one vote that one casts here that’s more important than deciding to send young men and women to serve in a foreign theater.”
And, despite all the partisan bickering that has plagued Washington politics for decades, Fortsch said he believes all those in government are aware of the gravity of that choice.
“I don’t think anyone’s naive enough to be working for our government and not be aware of the ramifications of sending men and women to war,” he said.
Fortsch, originally from Springfield, is a 2006 graduate of Longmeadow High School, where he played hockey, football, baseball and track. He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on a four-year scholarship from the Reserve Officer Training Corps. (ROTC) program. Fortsch has a cousin in the Army, but it wasn’t tradition that drove him to the service.
“I’ve (always) had a huge sense of pride in my country and I felt this was the best way to give back,” he said. “I gained a sense of appreciation for everything I have in America.”
A full drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan is scheduled to be completed in 2014. There are still 100,000 troops there; 33,000 surge troops authorized by Obama in 2009 are set to leave the country at the end of 2012.
Fortsch said that makes his next deployment somewhat unpredictable, but the earliest he could go back is August.
He said whatever topic Obama focuses on in his speech would be fine, “as long as he says what’s been saying” and keeps the country moving in a healthy direction.
Fortsch said he was scheduled to tour the nation’s capital the morning after the speech. He was most excited to see the Lincoln Memorial.