Some 24,000 feet over Italy, after an afternoon traipsing around a U.S. Army base in Albania, Gen. Wesley K. Clark slips out of his baggy battle fatigues and leather boots and into tailored dress greens with four silver stars on each shoulder.

As soon as his plane touches down here, off he goes, across the runway and up into the right rear seat of a Black Hawk helicopter that flies him to headquarters, just in time to give the chiefs of staff from France, Britain, Germany and Italy a progress report.

Clark, NATO's top general, has been on a "battle rhythm" schedule since the war against Yugoslavia began.

As the supreme allied commander in Europe, he is in charge in peacetime of 15,500 troops, with an additional 31,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia and 40,000 more deployed for the air operations that began March 24. In his hat as commander in chief for the U.S. European Command, 110,000 U.S. military personnel are under his leadership.

Clark's headquarters in Mons, 40 miles southwest of Brussels, is an unimposing gray concrete complex where, in the age of high-speed computers, international videoconferencing and secure telecommunications, he can bring his entire command structure, 19 national military commanders, and his political masters in Brussels and Washington together for a surround-sound picture.

On a recent Saturday he begins at 7:45 a.m., speaking by phone with his three top NATO subordinates and Secretary General Javier Solana, one after the other, and receives briefings on the air war from his directors of operations and intelligence. If he wants, he can click on a special channel on his office television and watch video footage of unmanned aerial vehicles tracking the ground in Kosovo.

A fuller picture comes to Clark every morning in Room H-208 VTC. There he talks to television images of his commanders in Italy, Macedonia, Albania, Germany and up the road in Brussels, as well as with his operations, intelligence and logistics officers and political analysts in the room with him for the "NATO Secret" briefing.

At 9 a.m., he learns that Serb forces have laid minefields three miles wide along parts of the Albanian border with Kosovo. There are reports the Yugoslav army has buried alive 20 Kosovo rebels near the town of Radovec. NATO planes struck 47 targets and launched a dozen anti-radar HARM missiles overnight. He tells his officers to find out how their planes came to hit a Kosovo Liberation Army rebel observation post near Kosari.

The videoconference switches to Gen. Michael Jackson, a Briton in charge of 16,000 NATO troops in Macedonia. He has an update on moving NATO military convoys through Greece and on the likelihood of having to build more barracks in the grass.

Switch, and there's an update from Tirana on efforts to dredge an Albanian port for the possible arrival of NATO ships.

By 9:45 Clark is out the door, heading into the U.S.-only National Command Center, where the doors echo as they do in a prison when they are open and shut. It is here that he meets by videoconference each day with his U.S. European Command subordinate organizations, and with the super-secret Joint Analysis Center in Molesworth, England, where the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others collect and analyze information from informants in Yugoslavia, communications intercepts and overhead imagery. It goes onto a classified computer network for use by hundreds of air operators looking for their next targets.

Back in his office, and after separate calls with Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the vice chief, Gen. Joseph Ralston, Clark has a videoconference with Defense Secretary William S. Cohen. Eight more phone calls follow, three of them from foreign military chiefs of staff. Then there is a meeting with a foreign minister, a talk with the French military representative to NATO, and discussions with European and U.S. reporters.

On Saturday, his schedule lists EOD, "End of Day," at 18:15. But he is in the office until 7:55 p.m., on the line again with Shelton, Ralston, a NATO ambassador, Solana and several chiefs of defense. The calls continue after he arrives home to a nearby chateau, until 1 a.m. Occasionally they are from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright or national security adviser Samuel "Sandy" Berger.

Clark gets input from a dozen different places, and one of the most important is NATO's Joint Operations Center. From Clark's private office, it lies down the hall and up one flight of stairs, next to the maintenance shop.

The JOC "J2 Balkans Teams" is a warren of offices encased in concrete and metal so dense that it is impenetrable by spy equipment. Around the clock its 243 staff members monitor air operations over Yugoslavia, collect intelligence and watch political shifts within the NATO alliance. Maps cover every wall. Computer terminals fill the floor. The relentless pace has produced survival humor: "Day 66 of the JOC Hostage Crisis," reads one door sign.

In the operations room, officers track NATO peacekeeping troops, the military's refugee relief operations and the movement of every single aircraft that flies over the Balkans and every ship and submarine that sits off the Yugoslav coast.

The JOC is headed by U.S. Army Col. Douglas A. Macgregor, a maverick who nearly lost his career for writing a book that advocates a radical restructuring of the Army's slow-moving force into one that could react with speed to crises around the world. Such as Kosovo.

Macgregor's presence is a symbol of Clark's leadership style: Hire the brightest and let them be bold. It is that kind of thinking that has made him an unpopular figure within the tradition-bound Army he has served for nearly three decades and in the hyper-politicized Pentagon.

Top of his class at West Point and a Rhodes scholar, Clark is the recipient of a Purple Heart for combat wounds during the Vietnam War and 15 other top military honors. "One too many credentials," laughs one of his loyal command staff.

Besides defeating Serb forces, Clark seems intent on overturning negative public perceptions about the war. After culling through a three-inch stack of classified reports and message traffic that he uses plane rides to get through, he turns to the daily collection of news articles and talk show transcripts.

"We did okay today," he tells his spokeswoman, Col. Stephanie Hoehne.

CAPTION: As the supreme allied commander in Europe, Gen. Wesley K. Clark is in charge in peacetime of 15,500 troops, with an additional 31,000 peacekeepers in Bosnia and 40,000 more deployed for the air operations in Yugoslavia that began March 24.

CAPTION: Gen. Wesley K. Clark has been on a "battle rhythm" schedule since the war in Yugoslavia began. (Photo ran on page A01)