As a specially trained Navy SEAL in hot spots such as Cambodia and Beirut, he was accustomed to dodging bullets and avoiding ambush. Now Dale E. Bosley is the marshal at the Supreme Court. There's no comparison in danger and tension. Still, the marble palace has its moments.

Like the day back in October 1997 when the courtroom sound system failed and the justices couldn't hear the lawyers arguing before them.

"Nothing quite gets your attention like having nine of the most powerful people in the country turn toward you," said Bosley, who is stationed at the far left of the justices during oral arguments. He felt the pressure of all eyes on him to get the microphones to work. On the spot. But neither he nor anyone else could. The perturbed justices had to repeatedly ask the lawyers to speak up and spectators couldn't hear a thing. That fiasco ranks right up there as one of Bosley's worst days in the five years since he became marshal.

Decorum and dignity are everything at the nation's highest court. It runs on a tightly controlled schedule. The brass is always polished. Every police officer knows his or her place. Even the littlest disruption in the hushed courtroom--from a slow clock to an improperly dressed lawyer--is a federal case.

And it is the marshal--Bosley--who is in charge of making sure these appearances are kept, security is tight and the building shipshape. The marshal controls nearly half of the court's 400-employee work force, including all the police officers. He's the general manager and paymaster.

Decked out in gray morning coat with tails, Bosley is also the person who pounds the opening gavel and announces: "Oyez, oyez, oyez! All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of the United States, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God save the United States and this Honorable Court." Bosley knows that by heart but keeps a copy of the words at hand in case of a lapse.

"Our business is mostly in the details," said Bosley, 53, who retired six years ago from the Navy as a captain. Comparing the marshal job to his 25 years as a SEAL, including four as a commander of an elite team, he said, "There is still stress. The difference is that this is more subtle, more lingering."

Indeed. "The more you are here the more you are aware of its complexities, its unwritten rules," said Bosley, whose lean, ramrod bearing exudes discipline. "You have to be cautious. You're learning constantly how to interact with the institution."

Despite protestations of the job's difficulty and a reluctance to even talk to a reporter (the chief justice gave permission), Bosley is a button-down, no-stray-hair kind of guy who seems perfectly suited to overseeing operations at the highest court in the land.

He commanded a 200-man SEAL team. He was assistant naval attache in Phnom Penh during the fall of Cambodia and served in United Nations operations in Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. He certainly can scan the courtroom and figure out what's amiss--hopefully before any of the justices do. To hear him tell it, even a buzzing fly gets his attention--and dread.

On weightier matters, Bosley's tenure at the court has coincided with increased security concerns at all federal buildings. The man who spent years avoiding ambushes and abductions personally briefs each new police officer at the court. He emphasizes security and then some: "There's an obligation to have a great respect and reverence for the court and to convey that on the front line" for the 1 million tourists who visit the building each year.

Bosley, who was selected by the full court and earns $125,900 annually, is the ninth marshal since the position was created in 1867. His office is a testament to the history of the post, with portraits of former marshals, and to his own past, including Navy commendations, medals and a U.N. flag he retrieved in 1976 from an observation post between Lebanon and Israel.

His daily regimen similarly reflects his past. He's up by 5 a.m., runs five miles, then works out with weights in the court gym. Getting to the court early, he says, gives him an opportunity to look around before people are there to make sure no light bulbs are out, the brightwork is polished and everything is in order.

To be ready for the 10 a.m. opening gavel, employees of the marshal's office begin preparing the courtroom around 6:30. On the day the sound system failed, a blown fuse turned out to be the culprit. But Bosley has made sure that never happens again. A sound specialist has been retained to attend every oral argument and if something goes wrong, to fix it. On the spot.

Players

Dale E. Bosley

Title: Marshal of the Supreme Court

Age: 53

Education: Bachelor's degree, Princeton University; master's degree in English literature, Georgetown University; law degree, Georgetown University Law Center.

Family: Married. Wife, Janine, is also a lawyer.

Previous jobs: Navy, 1968-93, retired as captain, commanded a 200-man SEAL team and a special boat unit; attorney, 1993-94, Ackerson & Bishop, specializing in tax and government contracts.

Hobbies: Piano, running, gardening.