"All right, Mr. Holcomb!" snaps Midshipman 1st Class Sandy Erwin, 21, a 5-foot-4 California blond. "What's for lunch?"
Holcomb - one of 12 frightened plebes, the lowest form of Naval Academy life - braces himself against the wall, back straight, chin tucked hard into his chest. Bug-eyed, he recites from memory:
"Tater tots, ham, luncheon meats, Swiss cheese, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, submarine rolls, macaroon cookies, iced tea with lemon wedges, milk... uh... ma'am."
"Did I hear SALAMI, Mr. Holcomb?"
Poor Holcomb. He forgot salami.
It is time of year at the U.S. Naval Academy, a 329-acre expanse of green lawns and granite tradition that invites 1,400 tenderfoots to endure plebeian rigors on the banks of the Stevern every summer.
But this summer is different. For the first time in the academy's 134-year history women are in command alongside the mem, having risen through the ranks to positions of leadership as seniors in the Class of 1980. As they take charge, fellow classmates say, they are proving that a 200-pound hulk will follow orders from a "girl" such as Erwin - as long as she wears a first-class stripe.
Erwin moves down the line. Plebes Mason, Jordan and Hunter clutch just as Holcomb did, atheir minds fogged by the pressure of the moment. So does Plebe Jemley, who is sweating heavily.
"If you clutch in your F14 and crash and kill your crew, I hope you're all on the same flight," Erwin says, dismissing everyone for chow except Kanakis, a plebe who has been severely stricken by the dread disease of Plebe Summer - sudden memory loss.
"Your performance is slipping, Mr. Kanakis," she barks her large hazel eyes narrowing in anger, her long nails (as polished as the plebes' SHOES SHOULD BE) DIGGING INTO HER HIPS. "BUT THE PRESSURE IS NOT GOING TO STOP. I'M NOT GOING TO LET IT. NOW, SHOVE OFF!"
"GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY!" yelps the plebe as he scrambles off for lunch.
"I pressure him so much because when I get finished with him I know he's going to be good," explains Erwin. "That's what plebe training is all about. Only with constant, continuing pressure is clutching going to break. We've got to get them to the point where they don't clutch."
In 1976, when Erwin joined the ranks of Annapolis' first class to include women, traditionalists feared the worst. Women, it was preidicted, would get pregnant, lose their "femininity" from the stress, make the men go soft, turn into mediocre officers at best, cause mutinies among snickering midshipmen, destroy morale and discipline, run pantyhose up the flagpole and cut the fraternal fabric of the academy into shreds.
But "the horrible things that people predicted haven't happened," says Capt. Jcak Darby, 43, the departing commandant of midshipmen who is inevitably asked how the women are doing.
"The girls aren't doing any better or any worse than the men," says the gregarious commandant, who was charged with transforming the sexual landscape. "They do average, and average at the U.S. Naval Academy is very, very good.
"They may not be as loud or forceful in their leadership style as Marine Corps DIs, but they're equally effective."
Mercy on the plebe Erwin finds day-dreaming at attention. "Go tell Mr. Meek you were lollugagging in the hall," she shouts, pushing her nose within inches of the plebe's pimply face.
"GO NAVY, BEAT ARMY, SIR!" He prepares to bolt ...
"do I look like a SIR?" demands Erwin.
"No, Sir, I mean, ma'am." Dismissed.
"You can't let 'em by one time," says Erwin. "We've got to train 'em to think."
Patrick Mattiae, 18, a plebe in Erwin's squad, says the women are tougher than he expected. "When Miss Erwin yells at me, I know the answer, but sometimes it just doesn't come out."
"She's good at keeping you flustered," says Steven Wirsching, 18, a plebe from Twin Falls, Idaho.
Erwin says she used to lie awake at night, afraid that "some guy who was six-foot-five would say, 'No, I won't do it.' But I haven't had any static from my plebes."
Indeed, as one plebe put it, "A boss is a boss."
As one of 54 women remaining out of the 81 who enrolled in the first coed Class of 1980 (their dropout rate was slightly higher than the men's), Erwin credits her apparent success at inspiring respect among her male colleagues to a determination she made early on to a void being "similey," opting instead to project a "firm, serious" image.
Yet, she says, behind the no-nonsense exterior is warmth and compassion. "The guys have built-in sisters and mothers in us," she says. "If they have a problem and can't talk to their girlfriend about it, they can come and talk to me."
The academy has attempted to treat the women just like the men - short hair, little makeup, hard work, marksmanship classes and so on. But their course has been tailored to some extent. They are not allowed on combat ships. a fact of the New Navy life several male midhsipmen were grousing over Sunday night at Riordan's, a popular singles bar along the wharf.
"Women only have to run a 7.30 mile," grumps Midshipman 1st Class Carl Chapman, 21, editor of the yearbook.
"My roommate could walk it that fast. A few girls would do all right if you stuck 'em in a division officer's billet, but 90 percent are totally unfit to be officers. The Navy is trying to give the impression that women fit in well here, but they don't."
Chapman, a drawing, blond-haired good-ole-boy from Augusta, Ga, chokes in mid-burger as three braless women in skin-tight Calvin Klein jeans sashay past his elbow toward the door. "That's more like it," he says,
Talk turns to the macho exploits of Navy men on foreign shores, bold tales that would make Harold Robbins blush. And Chapman allows the brighter side: Perhaps photos of academy women could help him sell more Luckybags, the yearbooks. Too bad he can't use them as centerfolds, it is agreed.
"They just came here to get their 'Mrs.' degree," said Bill Stuehler, 21, a midshipman first class. Bob Huffman, a 22-year-old senior, nods in agreement and complains that the 4,300 academey men have spent so much time competing for the attention of the 209 women that they have forgotton the meaning of all-male comradeship.
Already, five interclass marriages are scheduled for June Week next year. "It hurts friendships among the guys," says Huffman. "Women justseek out guys they think can help them the most."
Midshipman who do not date academey women are forced to bite their nails until the weekends, when they are allowed off the grounds. For midshipmen like Bob Stucky, a 21-year-old first classman from San Francisco, it is especially tough. His girlfriend lives in California and he sees her only three times a year.
"Guys who date mids," he laments, "get to see 'em every night."
"They're just jealous that I've got a good-looking female mid," says Greg Mislick, 21, a first class mid from Cherry Hill, N.J., who dates Tina D'Ercole, 21, a classmate. They both want to go to flight school.
"There's still a little animosity toward the girls. I get teased a lot," says Mislick. Some of the hostility graduated with the last all-male class of 1979 that chose as its motto: Omnis Veris, or All Men.
D'Ercole. an articulate midshipman fresh off summer cruise who wanted to be in the Navy since the seventh grade, reaches up to remove a piece of lint from her boyfriend's shoulder boards. They say they are careful to avoid public displays of affection.
"We don't want to come across as a lovely-dovey couple," she says. "But whenever we're away from here, no one would know we were two midshipmen."
"I call her, 'Miss D'Ercole,'" says Mislick. "Now, it I get a '100' on a test and tell her, sure, she might want to give me a kiss. But she doesn't. And if I see her, I might want to give her a hug. But I don't."
One of the greatest fears was how to handle a woman's tears. Greg Mislick says he ignores them. "Tears may have helped you to get what you wanted from your boyfriend in civilian life, but they won't cut it around here," he has told women middies. "There's no time for tears. When you get hydralic failure on uour submarine, you can't call your mother and cry."
But Lt. Cmdr. J.C. Glutting, 36, the highly-decorated, split-and-polish overseer of 700 plebes - as well as Sandy Erwin's company officer - says he has yet to record a single female breakdown in his "crying log," a special book he uses to keep tabs on plebian emotions.
"I don't mollycoddle them," says Glutting. "I call them in and say, 'Hey, it's not the end of the world. So you've shown a little emotion." All they usually need is a little pep talk."
Men are crying more often these days, according to Glutting. "It's a healthy sign usually attributable to terminal homesickness," he says. "In my day, we were taught no to cry."
Nonetheless, Glutting will not order Erwin and his other first class mids to lower their voices when addressing cowering plebes. In fact, to keep bite in their bark, he has prescribed honey for hoarseness and counselled them to shout from the disphragm, rather than from the throat.
"Physiologically," he says, "women can bark just as good as men. But society hasn't trained them to yell."
As Erwin, he says, "she can yell with the best." CAPTION: Picture 1, U.S. Naval Academy senior Sandy Erwin drilling plebes at afternoon formation: "... the pressure is not going to stop. I'm not going to let it." By Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Midshipman 1st Class Sandy Erwin presides over 6 a.m. excercise. "The girls aren't doing any better or any worse than the men," the Naval Academy's commandant says. By Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post; Picture 3, Sandy Erwin: "We've got to get them to the point where they don't clutch."