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Roads to the Capitol: Six new members of Congress on their personal journeys

An athlete. A principal. A painter. These six new members of Congress come from all walks of life.

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Rep. Allen West (Fla.-22)

Party: Republican

Age: 50

Previously: Adviser to the Afghan army; lieutenant colonel, U.S. Army

FYI: A decorated veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the only Republican member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

All I wanted to grow up to be was a soldier. That's all I thought about. My dad was a soldier, my older brother was a Marine, my mother worked for Marines, and so I couldn't wait until the days that I could step into line just the same as they had done. It's just who we are, who we were raised to be.

For a young, black teenager growing up in the inner city, those influences got you on the right path as far as discipline, as far as commitment to your country. I did 22 years' service in the Army. And I'm here continuing service to the country, just in a different uniform.

I know everyone is kind of perplexed about, you know, a black Republican congressman from South Florida who's a very strong conservative. But I think when you look at the basis of a conservative ideology -- individual responsibility, accountability, faith, good education and national security -- that's how I was raised.

I think it's important to talk about conservative principles and values and not make it such a boogeyman thing. You look at what's happened in our country, and it does seem so overwhelming. But I've been in some tough situations before. I mean, in 2003, they were talking about sending me to prison for eight years [for aggressively interrogating an Iraqi detainee]. I took responsibility for it and said to the Army, "You judge me as you need to judge me, and I will accept that punishment." I think that is what showed a lot of people that here is a guy that will stand upon what he believes, will not try to blame others. And I moved on with my life. So those are the type of things that I can bring to the table, being able to stand with resolve and resiliency and to just keep going forward.

Character always prevails -- that's what I tell my daughters. And character means doing what is right when no one is watching. You never want to question that. Because then it just becomes easier to question it the next time, and you end up being like some of the guys we see up here in Washington, D.C., where all of a sudden it's easier to, you know, slide that little ethics rule or do the things that you know are not right.

That doesn't mean you're perfect; we're human, and all of us have our faults and shortcomings, but you never want to question what's right. And even though you get off of your azimuth, you come back onto your true north.

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