TURLOCK -- Four of the 10 events in the decathlon start with a pistol shot.
Through years of training, Bryan Jillson knows what that sound means. It's when mind and body are in their peak moment of adrenaline rush; when muscles are most poised to spring into action.
He's learned not to cringe, not to be startled.
Not to duck.
It's a learned reaction that has become instinct, one that serves him very well while competing with the Cal State Stanislaus track and field team.
Within days, that sound could evoke a completely different reaction.
Jillson is a sergeant in the Army Reserve. His unit, the San Jose-based 334th Military Police Company, has been on alert for two weeks. At any moment, he could receive the phone call that will send him into active duty.
That could mean a trip to face a possible conflict in Iraq, or it could mean state-side military policing. There's no way for Jillson to know the direction of his orders until they arrive.
"It's scary, which is a natural reaction," Jillson said. "No one wants to go over there and have to shoot people. But that comes with the job if the situation deems it.
"The only thing we know right now is that our unit is on alert. Even before then, we knew there was a possibility something could happen."
Jillson has learned to live with the idea of going to war. He's 29 and has been a reservist almost constantly since graduating from Saratoga's Prospect High School in 1992.
The reserve was the right thing to do for a young man with military genes. His father and uncle served in Vietnam. His grandfather saw action in Korea, another relative served in WWII.
"We had ancestors on both sides of the Civil War," he said, "and we can trace our family tree back to the Green Mountain Boys.
"It fits my personality and the structure fits my life. I like being part of the group that makes the big system work smoothly."
Jillson attended West Valley College off and on, competed on the track team in 1994 and 96, became a journeyman grocery clerk at Safeway, quit to spend a summer at a Christian missionary school in the Czech Republic, then enrolled at Delta College for the 2000 fall semester.
While at Delta, he sat with a counselor and the two determined he was only a few units short of a two-year degree. He also was approached about helping out with coaching the track team.
"That was my first experience with what it is like to do what I hope now is my future job," he said. "I didn't get paid a dime, but it was worth more than any money I could have received."
He still enjoyed the structure he got from the reserve. A weekend a month, two weeks every summer in training, and a paycheck. So in July 2001, he re-upped for another eight years -- six active and two inactive.
"I figured I only had to put in another 12 years to get my 20-year letter and a nice supplement to my income, and I enjoyed it," Jillson said. "I didn't think anything would happen ... like September 11."
By that time, associate's degree in hand, he had enrolled at Stanislaus and discovered he had two years of NCAA Division II athletic track eligibility remaining. A stress fracture in his leg cut short his first season, but he came back this fall stronger and, yes, another year older.
"He's old, and that's what it boils down to," said teammate Matt Soderlund, a Davis High graduate. "I was about four years old when his track career started, but how cool is that to have that kind of knowledge from a teammate?"
Knowledge became performance on Feb. 8, when Jillson cleared 15-feet-7 in the pole vault to exceed the NCAA qualifying standard. It's the 18th-best Division II indoor mark this season, so it won't earn him one of the 12 invitations to the national meet. But it represents an improvement of 18 inches over the last year.
He's also just three semesters from earning a bachelor's degree and starting out on his life's work.
So for Jillson being called into active service right now not only would be inconvenient, it would be ironic.
For almost 11 years, the Army Reserve has provided the structure to his life.
Now that his life has found its own structure, up pops the spectre of active duty to muddy that path.
"It's taken me a long time to finish school, and now that I'm back into it and focused on getting it done, the idea of having to stop in mid-semester and starting over again in the future is frustrating," Jillson said. "But that's part of the job and I knew it when I signed on the dotted line."
This afternoon, Jillson and several of his teammates are scheduled to drive to Chico, where they will compete in the first outdoor track meet of the season. The decathlon is Thursday and Friday, and by the time the meet ends on Saturday, Jillson will be back in San Jose with his reserve unit.
It's the scheduled monthly reserve weekend, but it will be followed by a five-day reserve training seminar.
"They're calling it annual training, but it's not really," Jillson said. "It's prep, just in case we do get deployed. So it's on my mind that this could be my last meet."
Friday afternoon, Jillson will queue-up for the 1,500 meters -- always the final event of the decathlon.
He'll toe the line, hear the starter's call, and anticipate the firing of the pistol.
This week, he won't duck.