TAMPA, Fla. — “I thought I had a path set in life: I was going to be a lawyer,” Tom Cotton told The Daily Caller on the last day of the Republican National Convention at the end of the August.
“But the 9/11 attacks happened in my last year of school and that diverted me from that path.”
Cotton, 35, is running for Congress in Arkansas’s Fourth Congressional District. He was in his third year in law school at Harvard, where he also earned his undergraduate degree, when America was struck 11 years ago. Though he didn’t join the military immediately — he said he “had some student loans” to pay off — he ultimately enlisted as an Army Ranger, serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan on the front lines.
A 2011 profile of Cotton in the Weekly Standard said that when Cotton went to the recruiting station, he was immediately tagged as a perfect candidate for the Judge Advocate General Corps. “Cotton politely interrupted,” said the profile. “‘I don’t think you understand. I’m here to volunteer for the infantry.’”
While serving in Iraq, Cotton became something of an Internet celebrity. After The New York Times printed a story in 2006 on a secret U.S. government program to target al-Qaida’s finances, he wrote an open letter to the Times that went viral.
“Congratulations on disclosing our government’s highly classified anti-terrorist-financing program (June 23),” the letter addressing the two reporters who wrote the story and the paper’s then-executive editor Bill Keller opened.
“I apologize for not writing sooner. But I am a lieutenant in the United States Army and I spent the last four days patrolling one of the more dangerous areas in Iraq.”