Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Age: 32
Hometown: Kailua, Hawaii
Political party: Democratic
Relationship status: Single

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) came to Congress with what she calls the "aloha spirit."

"You come in with respect, sincerity and the mind of bringing people together instead of adding fuel to the divisive fires," she told The Hill.

The freshman lawmaker has drawn intense attention since she took the oath of office because of her age (at 32 she's the youngest female House member), her looks and her time in the Hawaii Army National Guard, which included two deployments to the Middle East.

While a state lawmaker in Hawaii, Gabbard did something not many politicians would do: She dropped her reelection bid to join her National Guard unit in its deployment to Iraq.

"I knew there was no way I could stay behind as my brothers and sisters who I had trained with were leaving," she said. "There were some people that were very surprised by it — a lot of my colleagues and some of my military commanders — but there was no question in my mind that it was right thing to do."

Gabbard is still in the reserves, serving her monthly weekend of service during the two days before she sat down with The Hill.

But what she looks forward to the most is returning to Hawaii.

"It really is literally refreshing every time you step off the plane," she said.

Gabbard was born in Leloaloa, American Samoa, but moved to Hawaii when she was 2 and has called it home ever since.

"It is truly special because of the culture and the people. I cherish every time I can go home," she said.

Her favorite way to decompress there: surfing.

"If I'm home for the district work week, there are at least two mornings during the week I paddle out and go surfing for a few hours," she said.

The vegetarian says she loves to cook but doesn't have time with her busy schedule.

"My fridge is empty," she noted.

As for her future, Gabbard, who's been called a rising star in the Democratic Party, says she has "no idea."

But she does know she'll be running for her House seat again in 2014.

"I've really made that decision based on where I can make the most impact and be of the most service," she said, adding that she hopes her constituents "hire me again."

— Emily Goodin

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