Before we can lead, we must understand what it means to follow. Sometimes it is a natural step, and other times it is achieved in stages.

As the Army's top ROTC Cadets from each program assembled in Lexington Va., April 13-16 for the 2014 George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar, several of them did so from a unique vantage point. They were enlisted Soldiers whose next career steps are to capitalize on their experience and take on more expansive leadership roles by becoming officers.

The GCM seminar is an opportunity for the Army's top ROTC Cadets to interact with senior military and civilian leaders on a variety of topics that already, or will, impact the Army. As future leaders who are about to graduate and take their place in the ranks of America's Army, such a seminar is a valuable leadership development tool.

Why is this seminar different for prior service Soldiers? They have experienced the profession for which they are preparing by being a good follower and carrying out orders that in the future they will give. Their involvement in different operations and deployments cannot be simulated.

Cadet Cynthia Stinnett, an Austin Peay State University finance major, was a civil affairs specialist before enrolling in ROTC. She said it was during her last deployment to Afghanistan that she decided to become an officer. Stinnett chose the Simultaneous Membership Program which allows enlisted Soldiers to be in a Reserve service capacity while going to school and be commissioned through ROTC.

"I wanted to have a greater role in leading Soldiers and have a greater impact and more of a voice in what I was doing," she explained. "I chose finance because being in civil affairs I realized how money has such an impact on the conflicts we are involved in, and how much it can help or hurt an operation. This way I can be in a position where I can influence the operation by doing a good job."

While Stinnett said she learned much from the different roundtable discussions and the one-on-one time with the presenters, she was equally impressed with the presentations by senior Army leadership.

"For example, (Brig.)Gen. Combs' speech was very inspirational because (we saw) someone at that level of leadership who is so motivated," she explained. "Even at my level as a Cadet sometimes I feel like one of the hardest things we have to fight is indifference, and to see somebody who is so passionate about leading Soldiers at that level."

She added that Combs' presentation on trust and respect led directly to the roundtable discussion where Cadets learn how issues they might not have thought about, really do matter.

Another one of those roundtable sessions was on the "Profession of Arms," and focused mainly on ethics.

The instructor, retired Navy Capt. James Campbell, Military Professor for Character Education, Stockdale Center, U.S. Naval Academy, pointed out that it took more than 30 years after Vietnam to regain the public's confidence. The U.S. military is now at the top of a list of most respected organizations, but how long would it take to ruin that reputation? He added that character is habit, and war does not change character but exposes it--both the good and the bad.

"The ethics roundtable generated a lot conversations and a lot of different view points on how people would handle given situations presented to us," said Cadet Brendan Sandmann who attends the University of Louisville. "There isn't a right or wrong answer to what we were given to discuss but it made you think a lot about how you would handle delicate and ethical situations."

Sandmann was a cavalry scout before starting ROTC at Louisville in the Army's Green to Gold program. This program provides enlisted Soldiers like Sandmann multiple options to get commissioned. Soldiers have the option to stay on active duty while going to college; receive a scholarship if they leave active duty to go through school; or leave active duty and receive a monthly stipend with no scholarship.

"Being an officer was a goal prior to enlistment and it took longer than I wanted, but I managed to figure out how to apply and get qualified," Sandmann explained. "The choice came down to opportunities to further my ability to lead, and for my family and their quality of life."

He said he chose the aviation branch because of friends still on the ground.

"As a ground combatant, I was always in awe of the presence aviation could bring and shift the battlefield in our favor," he added. "I wanted to continue to do that for my friends still on the ground."

Both Stinnett and Sandmann said they were impressed with the quality of Cadets who they met and that they were enjoying the opportunity to network with so many future Army leaders.

Among those future leaders with whom they could connect was Cadet Amanda Isom, who was an operating room technician before starting the ROTC program at Georgia Regents University via the Green to Gold program.

"I deployed to Iraq and was in Abu Ghraib prison for first half, and Camp Cropper Iraq for the second half, doing detainee health care operations," she explained of her experience. "It was tough being in the medical field and having to take care of and help the people who were attacking the U.S. at the same time.

"It was hard at first, but over time you figure it is about the greater good and not about those feelings of animosity or retaliation. It's about giving these people the health care they have probably been denied all their life, fixing them and sending them home."

Isom said she decided she wanted to become an officer because, although she said she loves taking care of Soldiers, she works with medical officers and wants to perform at that level and work in higher echelons. She added that she will study psychology and would like to stay medical so she can continue to help people.

While at GCM Isom and 170 other Cadets listened to Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho, the 43rd Army Surgeon General and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Command, discuss the health and welfare of Soldiers and veterans, readiness in the force, and resiliency--a subject close to Isom.

"I went through master resiliency training to become a trainer myself--I haven't gotten to do much work with it, but I am excited to start when I get back," Isom said. "Helping Soldiers to set goals, to understand what causes certain emotions and why you react a certain way or why you don't react and how to not think negative to produce better actions--I am excited about the new direction."

She added that the GCM seminar was also inspirational and said she took several notes and many take-away points from the presentations of senior leaders and the roundtable discussions.

"I especially like hearing from the generals, and how enthusiastic and excited Brig. Gen Combs is," she explained. "It gives you something to aspire to when they are up there talking and I think, 'I want to be like that,' or 'that is someone I want to strive to be every day.'"

Isom cited Combs' discussion of what it took to be a successful leader--the three A's; attitude, awareness and authenticity. Isom said she was well aware of the concept of the three A's but hearing Combs talk about them put them in a new light.

"Those are things I want to improve on daily and when I hear it from senior leaders, it drives the idea home. It's more ingrained and memorable when you hear them talk about these things as a part of their own lives--having a good attitude, knowing your Soldiers, being who you are, and taking care of the force."