When he joined the Army initially, Cotton turned down its suggestion he join as an attorney with the Judge Advocate General. He insisted that he serve in the infantry.
In many ways, it is impossible not to look at Cotton through the prism of the Army.
Sure, he uses military lingo in conversation, but even his staff reflects his Army service. Chief of Staff Doug Coutts served with him in Iraq and was the first to sign up with his campaign.
And if his service helped lead him to Congress, Cotton says it will help him alter the partisan divides in the House, too.
"I think I can help build consensus," Cotton said. "That spirit of teamwork and discipline and dealing with imperfect information, having to make choices between not good and bad but better and worse."
In particular, he points to what he learned about counter insurgency in Afghanistan as a way he can help with bipartisanship.
"You are working very closely with people from a different culture, different language, different part of the world but you build common bonds around shared priorities," Cotton said.
"Sometimes you may disagree and sometimes you don't share the priority entirely, but you just have to be open-minded and good willed."
Cotton's talk of bipartisanship fits his district -- he is the second Republican since Reconstruction to represent the Arkansas 4th, which covers nearly the southern half of the state and includes former President Bill Clinton's birthplace of Hope.
Somewhere in between the office hunt, Cotton took time to shake hands with older, more established congressman. Cotton's most charismatic moments of the day come in these conversations; he seems to value the interactions, no matter how short, with other members of the House. A sign, it seems, of the way he honors the legislative body.
But some in his home state of Arkansas see bigger plans for the man who can't be called congressman until he's sworn-in in January.
This last election was big for Republicans in the state as they easily swept all four seats in the House. The shift couldn't come at a worse time for Democrats.
The state's popular Democratic Governor Mike Beebe is out for 2014 due to term limits and the notable Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is also up for reelection. With the momentum from 2012 at their back, Republicans hope to make gains in those two races.
And some see Cotton as the person to lead this charge -- many in Arkansas political circles and blogs from the state have already floated his name for both seats.
But Red State's editor-in-chief Erick Erickson says Cotton has yet to prove himself in Congress and challenged the congressman-elect to lead, not follow.
"The GOP in Congress doesn't really stand for a whole lot these days. I'll be interested to see if Tom Cotton can help them change that as a younger face with conservative conviction," said Erickson, also a CNN contributor.
"Some conservatives fear that, having rallied to him early, he'll turn out like a lot of tea party members from 2010 and align so closely with leadership as to not stand out except as peddlers of the leadership agenda. It'll be interesting to see if he sets his own course," he said.
Cotton laughs at the suggestion that he is looking ahead.
"People have big plans for my life, they just don't always tell me what they are," Cotton said, using a line his chief of staff said he would use to answer questions about his boss' future. "People are talking about 2014 and years beyond, I am just trying to pick out what paint I get."
From Dardanelle, Arkansas, to D.C.
For some freshman, the process of leaving their districts and moving to Washington can be daunting. New apartment, new office, new people -- very little is familiar.
As in the rest of life, however, Cotton says he is prepared and familiar with the nation's capital.
Not only did he work at the Washington law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher before going to Iraq, he also served as a member of the Old Guard at Arlington National Cemetery, the group of infantrymen that escorts caskets.
"I have literally run all over the city, in the morning, during PT [physical training] hours," Cotton said. "So I know the streets very well."