ANNAPOLIS -- Four years of trial by fire ended for Scott Dimeler and Linda Slootmaker on Wednesday with their graduations from the U.S. Naval Academy.

By Friday, they were back in the frying pan.

The newly commissioned ensigns, ages 22 and 21 respectively, were among more than two dozen couples married last week in the academy's grand, copper-topped chapel, where a rush of post-commencement nuptials have been a tradition for as long as anyone can remember.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Slootmaker, who put aside her "dress white" Navy uniform for a traditional, full-length gown with puff sleeves and a sequin-studded train. "We met here, and given the opportunity, we might as well get married here."

Between Thursday and yesterday, Navy chaplains were scheduled to perform 29 weddings, one every hour on the hour, while the chapel's two pipe organists took turns pumping out "Trumpet Voluntary" for the formal processionals. Ten were officer-officer marriages such as Dimeler and Slootmaker's; the rest linked former midshipmen with their civilian sweethearts.

Most of the couples had their wedding dates a full year in advance, having selected their appointed times in a lottery held each spring. Because of the short space between weddings, the services are limited to 40 minutes each; the Dimelers' Catholic ceremony was pared down to a brisk 25 minutes. But the chaplains say they work hard to make sure the couples do not feel they are in Las Vegas.

"We have a general meeting with all those getting married a few days beforehand, then sit down and talk to them individually and help privatize the ceremony for each couple," said Capt. Vince W. Carroll, command chaplain at the academy. "If they follow advice, they should be able to have the space to themselves."

Even so, the tight schedule requires the services of a team of 20 volunteers, mostly the wives of retired professors and officers, whose job it is to make sure that the bride and groom make it to the altar on time. Once upon a time, when about 100 chapel weddings were performed every half-hour over four days, these volunteers were called "pushers" because of the forceful way they went about their business.

Now, they prefer to be called "hostesses." But they are no less vigilant in shooing tourists away from the chapel doors, urging the brides to finish applying their makeup, distributing bouquets to the bridesmaids and keeping the just-marrieds and their guests from tarrying too long on the chapel steps for photographs.

"It gets a little hairy," said Betts Higgins, who has been a chapel hostess since 1956. "But we have to get them in and out. We owe that to the couples who are coming next."

The French Renaissance-style chapel, home to the crypt of John Paul Jones and stained-glass windows produced in the studio of Louis Tiffany, has been a popular place for weddings since it was completed in 1908. But it has only been since 1942 during World War II that midshipmen, who are required to remain single while at the academy, have been permitted to marry immediately after graduation.

With no war on, though, why get married so soon after the heady experience of being sprung from an institution that has monitored your every move for so long?

Some of the civilian-officer couples interviewed last week said their romances had survived a long separation with the help of letters and long-distance telephone calls, and they saw no reason to delay any longer. For Slootmaker and Dimeler, who dated for three years, there was also the added incentive of the Navy's policy of stationing married couples in the same geographic area.

"If we waited and put if off for three or four years, we would never see each other," Dimeler said. "It also seemed like a good idea to go ahead and do it while our families were in the same city."

Contributing to the decisions of all the couples was the allure of the stately chapel with the dazzling traditions of a military wedding. Where else could they find a group of six officers in white hats and gloves to produce an arch of swords for them to walk through after the ceremony, with the last swordsman tapping the bride on the rear end to welcome her to the Navy family? (In Slootmaker and Dimeler's ceremony, both bride and groom received the customary pat.)

"Last year I came up for the Ring Dance {where juniors are awarded their class rings} and saw part of a wedding," said Traci Samz, 21, minutes before she married Ensign Martin Whitfield on Thursday. "That was all I needed to see. It's like a fairy-tale wedding."

By the couples' own estimation, the academy was a tough place for romance to bloom. During their plebe or freshman year, midshipmen are forbidden to date and even after they progress through the ranks, their leave time is limited to weekends. Mids in uniform are discouraged from engaging in "public displays of affection." And having sex in Bancroft Hall, the massive dormitory that is home to the 4,500-midshipman brigade, is a serious conduct offense that is strictly forbidden.

In some ways, they say, their years of self-denial were good preparation for the future. Dimeler and Slootmaker said they believe that four years of following orders, assuming responsibility and having to sacrifice their egos for the sake of team effort will make them a better husband and wife.