FORT MEADE, Md. -- Growing up in Evergreen, Alabama, or what he likes to call "small town USA," Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby said he learned how to fairly treat others from his parents.

As the senior enlisted leader for Army Futures Command, he strives to instill a sense of dignity and mutual respect within the Army's newest command.

He frequently asks for ideas from younger Soldiers, ensures equal opportunity is practiced, and even created a leadership development program to help minority women in the command spread their wings and advance their careers.

"It's an opportunity for females to have a voice," he said, "and also mentor others in the same capacity, whether in uniform or not."

But despite climbing the ladder to various leadership roles, his mother still tells him not to forget to live by the Golden Rule.

"As old as she is, she still reminds me of that," he said, laughing. "That's one thing she has engrained in me."

Crosby and Sgt. Maj. Deondre' Long, the chief military science instructor at Marion Military Institute, as well as five others across the military earned NAACP's Roy Wilkins Renown Service Award during its annual convention in Detroit on Monday for their contributions to equality and human rights.

Wilkins served as the executive director for the civil rights organization and established the NAACP Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Department in 1969.

YOUNGER GENERATION

Long, a former cavalry scout who has been involved in equal opportunity programs throughout his 20-year career, often sees the hurdles cadets face while attending his institute in central Alabama.

Whether they're dealing with tuition bills or a heated divorce between parents, he helps cadets under his wing graduate, regardless of their race or sex.

"It's an ongoing struggle, but once you see a cadet pass the finish line, it's like, 'Man, let me go back and grab somebody else so I can see them across,'" he said. "It's a continuous marathon."

Long recalled an extreme measure a mother of one of his cadets once said she would take to keep her son in college.

The desperate mother had decided to commit suicide so that her son could collect the life insurance money to pay for his tuition.

Once he found out, Long quickly navigated the delicate matter. He enlisted the assistance of a chaplain and figured out how his student could stay enrolled.

With his help, the cadet graduated in May and then commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.

"We came up with a plan so she didn't have to do that," he said. "We figured out ways to keep the cadet in school and still accomplish their goal in life."

His experiences have inspired him to positively affect the lives of younger children before they are old enough to attend college.

On June 1, he held his eighth fashion show since 2010 for children near Fort Benning, Georgia, where he once served as a first sergeant and where his family currently resides.

Over 40 children, many of whom were victims of bullying, participated in the event, which was intended to boost their confidence.

"We're just trying to build some type of foundation for these kids and let them know that they are somebody," he said. "Even if somebody gives up on you, you still have somebody else."

Afterward, Long said he was overwhelmed by the response he received from the parents.

"Being able to walk into a room and just feel loved and feel appreciated made a big difference in these kids' lives," he said.

GOLDEN RULE

Before his current role, Crosby also traveled to combat outposts to foster open communication and a trustworthy atmosphere as the senior enlisted leader for Operation Inherent Resolve's Combined Joint Task Force.

In addition to equal opportunity, he made sure a climate that prevented sexual harassment and assault was enforced by continued dialogue with senior and junior leaders.

He also regularly met with female Soldiers in combat roles to verify they were being treated similarly to their male counterparts.

"They have the same Army values, they're living the same Soldier, NCO or officer creed, and they're all trying to do better for one another," he said.

When he came to Futures Command, he quickly transformed the workplace to one that encourages all voices to be heard.

In his nomination letter, Gen. John Murray, the AFC commander, said Crosby has become his advocate for change.

"He is the senior enlisted advisor who understands the value of building diversity in the military," the general wrote, "and practices the integration of equal opportunity and affirmative employment for Soldiers and civilians into the fabric of our organization."

It's simple to Crosby, and goes all the way back to what his parents taught him.

"It's a way of life," he said. "It is our obligation to ensure that everybody is treated with dignity and respect."