George Bone, from Hebburn, has received his award in the New Year Honours list in recognition of his nine years of voluntary service to young people and the community.
The 65-year-old is the chairman of The TS Kelly Sea Cadet Corps in Hebburn, and is also the Northern Area Chairman of 70 cadet units in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England.
On receiving his honour he said: “I am over the moon.
“Its very emotional. When I read the letter I couldn’t believe it, as you never expect anything like this. You just get on with it.
“To be given something like this in recognition of what you have done is fantastic.”
Mr Bone first joined the organisation back in 1966 as a cadet himself and then as an instructor.
He joined the Royal Navy in 1975.
He was in the navy for 32 years and on leaving decided to give his time to the sea cadets as a way of giving something back.
In his time as a volunteer, Mr Bone has more than doubled the number of youngsters the unit in Hebburn.
With 50 cadets, it is one of the biggest units in the country.
He has also chaired the Redcar, Stockton, Guisborough, Seaham, Gosforth and Whitley Bay Sea Cadets over the years - helping bring some back from the verge of closure.
Mr Bone said: “The most important reason why I started was because being in the sea cadets helped me so much when I joined the Royal Navy.
“I knew so much beforehand about naval life because of them.
“I wanted to return the favour.
“The best thing is seeing the kids come through, seeing the smiles on their faces and seeing them go on to join the Navy and do exceptionally well.”
Mr Bone is also a voluntary welfare officer at HMP Durham and a council-selected chair of the school governors at Toner Avenue Primary School in Hebburn.