When Sheila Waskow returned to North Carolina in 2005 from Yokota Air Force Base in Japan, she figured her busiest days were finally behind her.
The Cowans Ford resident had just concluded a career with the Navy, Army and Air Force, and, along with her husband, Lt. General Tom Waskow, was looking forward to some "R&R" at their lakeside home.
Today, six years later, she's about as busy as she ever has been in her new role: vice president of operations and finance for the North Carolina USO.
"My days are long, and there's lots of travel, but I love this job and so admire our USO volunteers as they are the heart of our organization," said Waskow, 57, who was promoted from her previous job as director of the USO Charlotte Airport center two years ago.
In her post, she shuttles between USO facilities in Charlotte, Raleigh, Fort Bragg, Jacksonville and Fayetteville, making sure details are properly set to serve the many thousands of servicemen and women who travel to and from North Carolina each year.
Her job performance receives high praise from her boss, USO President John Falkenbury.
"Sheila is my right-hand woman. She has the knowledge and the experience to service our centers across the state in an outstanding manner," said Falkenbury.
A self-proclaimed Army brat, Waskow was born in Lincolnton. After attending elementary school in Germany, she returned to the states and graduated from North Mecklenburg High School in 1973. She earned her bachelor's degree from East Carolina University in 1977 in social work and corrections, focusing on community-based programs. In 1982, she earned her master's degree at the University of Oklahoma in human relations.
Prior to her work for the U.S. Department of Defense, Waskow worked for the Department of Justice and in private nonprofit youth and family services. Later on, she worked with the Army family advocacy program in the Netherlands, the Air Force family support system and the U.S. Navy in Naples, Italy, as the family services director. She has been a guest lecturer at the Air Force's Air University and has been featured at many workshops and conferences in Europe, the Pacific and the United States.
Over the years, she has received numerous awards and recognition from all three branches of the service, but her current USO job carries a special challenge.
"The smiles and the gratitude we see on the faces of our troops as they pass through our centers are incredible, but so many people don't realize that we're a nonprofit organization. It's our volunteers who make it happen, and we need to get that awareness out to the public," she said.
One of the ways that will happen is with the USO's annual major fundraising event, Salute to Freedom Gala, to be held Oct. 7 at the Raleigh Convention Center. It's a black-tie event honoring a service member from each branch of the Armed Forces. Proceeds from tickets, which start at $150, will allow USO of North Carolina to continue its mission to support U.S. military members and their families.
In those rare moments when Sheila has spare time, she spends it with her husband, Tom, often cruising on Lake Norman. She's also very proud of her two sons: Mark, a U.S. Air Force major in Abilene, Texas, and Andy, who lives in Bristow, Va., along with four grandchildren.
Is Waskow pondering retirement soon? Not likely.
"Planning and executing the support for our military and their families as they come through our state is a tremendously rewarding experience," she said.
By all accounts, she is organized and successful. "We have a seamless working relationship," said Falkenbury, the USO president. "We're a team, and it's a pleasure to work with her."