Alan Van Avery has a very important appointment to keep on Oct. 15, 2007: check into Hill Top Tire's time clock.
The day will mark his return to civilian life after enlisting in the U.S. Army soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. When his six-year enlistment is over, Hill Top owner Dave Webb expects him to punch back in.
``He's a good employee as well as a friend,'' Mr. Webb said.
For Mr. Van Avery's mother, Judy Van Avery, the time between now and that date is a period fraught with worry.
Mr. Van Avery, an E4 specialist, is stationed in South Korea. His two-year tour there comes up in May, and he will try to stay if allowed by the military, Ms. Van Avery said. If not, his path could lead to Iraq.
When he first enlisted, Mr. Van Avery, 24, wanted to join an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) unit. ``He was going to take care of all the bombs in the world and make everybody safe,'' she said, recalling his enthusiasm.
But at the time, the military was calling back already trained soldiers, and Mr. Van Avery would have been on a long waiting list for the EOD training. He then tried other positions and ended up as a fuel specialist, which is his job in South Korea.
Ms. Van Avery said two possible options come May could be staying in South Korea or else returning to the U.S. If he comes home, she said, he's nearly guaranteed to leave for Iraq soon after. Asked if she was concerned about that possibility, she replied quickly: ``I am petrified.''
The feeling isn't new to her. Both of her parents were in the Army, and her brother, who served in the Navy, died in Vietnam.
She said her son first started talking with recruiters in high school. Then came Sept. 11. ``That just made his mind up that something had to be done,'' she said.
His decision brought difficult feelings for his mother.
``I wasn't really thrilled that he was going to go, but I understood because we came from a family that was military-backed,'' she said. ``That it's a very emotional thing to get into, that it can be rewarding and you feel as if you're accomplishing something. So in that way I kind of put my feelings aside on the bad parts and said, `OK, no problem.'''
And while she's concerned about the specter of Iraq, Ms. Van Avery said her son has not said much about it.
``He feels that wherever he goes, he's going to do what he has to do,'' she said. ``He has a choice, but it's limited.''
Until Mr. Van Avery returns, Mr. Webb hired two technicians to fill in during the soldier's absence, but he said the job remains open upon his return. Mr. Van Avery worked at the retail, farm and commercial dealership for about two and a half years.
Ms. Van Avery said she appreciates Mr. Webb's support and contact. She said he routinely e-mails her son, telling him about various customers that have asked about him.
``It's nice to know that somebody's looking for you to come back,'' she said.