ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Corey K. Cush, the senior enlisted advisor to the New York Army National Guard's 53rd Troop Command, has always been an inspiration to his Soldiers, and now he's been awarded for it in a BIG way.

Cush, who is responsible for 4,500 Soldiers in combat support and combat service support units across New York, was presented with the 2017 Blacks in Government (BIG) Military Meritorious Service Award at a reception held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 23, 2017.

Cush is the first New York Guardsman to receive this award since it was implemented in 2005.

"I wasn't expecting this," said Cush, the highly decorated 32-year Army combat veteran. "It means a lot to me - to be a beacon for change - especially in the current climate our country is in."

This award honors military members and Department of Defense civilian employees, men and women, who significantly contributed to the mission of their organization via 10 essential criteria to include promoting the tenets of civil rights, displaying exceptional character, and eliminating the barriers that hinder equal opportunity.

"Sgt. Maj. Cush is one of the best enlisted leaders in the New York Army National Guard. He looks out for his Soldiers and is a professional in every way. He is incredibly deserving of this honor," said Major General Anthony German, the Adjutant General of New York.

Cush, a Mt. Vernon, N.Y. resident, said he was humbled by the recognition and support from those who submitted a nomination on his behalf and that he was honored with winning the award.

But, he emphasized that getting awards doesn't make a person a leader.

"Awards don't make you a role model," said Cush. "Role models are forged by the way you conduct and carry yourself each and every day."

With or without awards, Cush is always at the forefront providing leadership and mentoring to junior Soldiers and senior leaders alike, said Brig. Gen. Michel Natali, the commander of the 53rd Troop Command, Natali has served with Cush since 2011.

Natali said Cush "was the natural choice for recognition because he exemplifies the true professionalism we demand of our NYARNG senior leaders and is the absolute standard for others to follow."

Cush said he draws from all of his military experience, both from the active Army and the National Guard, when he talks about how the Army culture is a great representation of role models and diversity in the workplace.

"No other organization is more fair and impartial than the military; you're given a fair shake. Look at the Army's core values, it signifies everything we are - and it doesn't mention color," Cush said.

"It is diversity that directly increases our combat readiness, morale and Esprit de Corps," said Cush.