WASHINGTON -- To continuously seek guidance regarding her Army career path, Cadet Derya Boydston has been an active participant of the Army Senior Leader Development Conference at Howard University for the past four years.

"This opportunity allows people to network with general officers, as it sheds some light on ideas and opportunities that a cadet might not have been aware of before," she said. "Mentorship is important, and being able to have that guidance has helped me a lot."

In partnership with U.S. Army Cadet Command, the conference on Wednesday provided Army senior leaders, active and retired, a unique opportunity to interact and coach the future generation of agile and adaptive leaders from 20 universities and seven Junior ROTC programs.

Growing up as an Army dependent, Boydston was drawn to a life of military service. Instead of following the same enlisted career path as her father, she decided to attend college first.

Shortly after being accepted to Howard, she joined her school's ROTC program and immediately "fell in love," she said. In addition to growing as a cadet, the annual leadership conferences continued to motivate Boydston, instilling her with confidence and driving her to be a compassionate leader.

"It is an exciting time as we build the Army of the future that will support and defend the nation," said retired Lt. Gen. Robert S. Ferrell.

Driven by his passion to mentor and develop leaders, Ferrell helped develop the conference five years ago.

"We need young leaders that can learn from the past, that know the history of our great institution," he said. "We need leaders that can take lessons from the generations of Army leaders to ensure we remain the finest, most ready, most effective and most lethal force in the world."

IT TAKES A TEAM

As cadets leap to second lieutenant rank, they need to maintain their focus on the fundamentals and continue to be technically and tactically proficient in their craft, according to Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, chief of the Army Reserve.

Leaders must remain committed to accomplishing the mission, but understand that it is the team that will ultimately lead to the Army's success, he added.

During the conference, 10 general officers, representing various Army organizations and commands, entertained a wide range of questions from the cadet audience during a panel discussion.

"It's a great time to join the Army," Luckey said. "We are coming out of 17 years of conducting a certain type of operation in a certain threat environment, relatively in the same fashion. Now it's changed over time. We're now moving into a new era."

In the future, the Army will require more from its leaders as the force conducts multi-domain operations with dispersed units in contested environments, according to Maj. Gen John R. Evans Jr., commanding general of the Cadet Command.

"You're going to have an opportunity to be trained in a way that nobody sitting on this panel has been trained," Evans said. "We grew up during the air-land battle doctrine phase of the Army where we were concerned with combining fires to support maneuver. You're going to have a vastly different experience … and I think you're going to be a better set of officers at the end of the day."

As the next generation of leaders step in and take the reins, it will be up to them to innovate and shape the future force, said Maj. Gen. Glenn A. Bramhall, special assistant to the director of the Army National Guard.

"Innovation is the confluence of critical thinking and creative thinking," Bramhall said. "We don't want robots. We want people to think outside the box, so if you can come into the military with creative skills, we'll teach you the critical skills."