Long before he was assigned to 101st Airborne Division, former Capt. Samuel P. Fortsch was a patriot, storyteller and dog lover.
Soon Fortsch will be a published author – with not one but four youth books set to be released by Penguin Random House in September and October. All four books of the “Pawtriot Dogs” series draw inspiration from his love of country, the men and women he served with in the Army and the lessons he learned while serving the nation.
“As a little kid loving to play with little Soldiers, GI Joes, as cliche as it possibly could have been,” Fortsch said. “It really started out as a kid, creating these characters with my buddies, crawling through dirt, pretending we were in war movies or jumping from couch to floor, pretending we were in a James Bond flick.”
Fortsch grew up in a small Massachusetts town, playing with military helmets worn by his ancestors, watching war movies with dad and grandfather, who was a Marine, and penning his own adventure stories.
Becoming a military man
“Then, at age 12 or 13, 9/11 happened and I was inspired by all the patriotism, the American flag, the perseverance and resilience and strength that the country showed, and then I was inspired by seeing countless 17-, 18- and 19-year-old kids sign up for the military and join the fight,” Fortsch said. “I started taking that seriously my sophomore year in high school and started researching some ROTC programs as I wanted to pursue a college degree.”
Fortsch signed a four-year Army ROTC scholarship and attended the University of Massachusetts and was commissioned in 2010 as a second lieutenant and was assigned to the field artillery branch.
After six months at the Field Artillery Basic Officer Leadership program at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, he was assigned to the now deactivated 4th Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell in 2011.
He deployed to Afghanistan as a fire support officer in 2011 doing combat operations and with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th BCT in 2013.
“I was in the 101st from 2011 to 2014, when I got out,” Fortsch said. “I got some lifelong friendships out of that.”
Some of those friends might find parts of their personalities in the characters Fortsch created for the series that follows the adventures of Sgt. “Rico” Ricochet, a bomb-sniffing Malinois who finds himself at a rag tag animal shelter in Washington where his leadership skills are needed to save the sanctuary and other pets.
Fortsch said he created the character and books because his son, Samuel, now 5, was curious about his Army career.
Telling the Army story
“I thought, what would be a simple way to convey to him what the Army was like and that’s when I came up with Pawtriot Dogs,” Fortsch said.
Rather than draw on his own exact experiences, Fortsch creates missions that promote team work and leadership. But while the pack might be fighting pirates in one book – something he never did – the lessons he hopes to impart have deeper meaning.
“No swashbuckling took place in my Army career, but what did take place in my Army career – climbing up a hill when you didn’t want to climb up a hill, or running faster after you’ve already run 5 miles and you’re tired, or putting on extra weight because one of your teammates is struggling,” Fortsch said. “It’s more of a moral message that I drew on from the Army because there were a lot of times I’d be complaining or thinking this is too tough. But you’ve got strong leaders and some of the best noncommissioned officers and lower enlisted Soldiers who you can draw a lot of inspiration from, because day in and day out, they exemplify what it means to be a Soldier in the United States Army. I think the reason I enjoyed creating the series so much is because I wanted to, through Rico’s character, show what a true American Soldier is like.”
He wants the series to promote teamwork, leaning on others, helping others and carrying a heavier workload to benefit someone who is struggling, Fortsch said.
While writing the series, he honed-in on the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage, Fortsch said. His stories are about facing fear and adversity, doing what’s right and loyalty to a unit – whether it’s a fellow Soldier or animals.
There are important messages about standing up to bullies and facing obstacles.
“In each book I introduce a new branch of the military,” Fortsch said. “In Book One, we get the Army dog in Rico, who will link up with Chaps, who is an old sergeant first class and he’s inspired by a lot of the gruff, ruff and tumble seasoned noncommissioned officers that I had the privilege of working with.”
His wife, Julia, said his love for his Family, God and country shows in Fortsch’s life and the books he has written.
“If you have ever had the chance to spend time with him you will quickly learn how fun, caring and kind he is,” Julia Fortsch said. “He’s an excellent storyteller and always knows how to make those around him smile. Sam’s passion for writing shines in the ‘Pawtriot Dog’ series and I can’t wait for people to read it. We are so incredibly proud of him.”
Fortsch writes screenplays and said it was a stroke of luck that he got a four-book deal. Writing is an outlet he needed after leaving the military, he said.
“When I got out of the Army there was really this big void, from a fulfillment standpoint, and that’s when I started writing screenplays for movies,” Fortsch said.
Writing also provides him the opportunity to promote patriotism, something he does not shy away from.
“America is a country I’m so grateful to have been born into and I would do whatever it takes to preserve this union,” Fortsch said. “It’s the greatest country on Earth and deserves the recognition it gets. It can take people out of poverty and give them chances they can’t get in other places in this world.”
Fort Campbell was Fortsch’s only duty station. The Family, which includes 1-year-old Madeline and William, 3, live in western Massachusetts with their two dogs, but they still visit the post when they can.
“It was the love of my life,” Fortsch said. “We’ve gone back and visited several times. We love the area, we love Fort Campbell, we love the 101st. The Screaming Eagles are something that I take a lot of pride in being part of.”