Canada plans to muster out green uniforms of Armed Forces

The wearing of the green is about to end for the 82,000 men and women in Canada's Armed Forces. Brian Mulroney promised he would do it, and in the first weeks in power the new Canadian government has started to unravel the uniform mess.

The promise was that a Tory government would get rid of the hated green uniform worn by Canada's Armed Forces. Traditionalists yearn for the deep navy blue of the Royal Canadian Navy, which plied the North Atlantic in its little corvettes; the khaki of the Royal Canadian Army, which fought in Normandy; and light blue worn by the airmen in the old Royal Canadian Air Force who flew Spitfires against Hitler.

For Canadians who remember, the new uniform sticks out like a technocratic thumb. But turning back the military clock is going to cost a lot of money. It could even mean extra staff.

Having one green uniform for all of Canada's unified Armed Forces may not be romantic, but it is practical, especially for support staff, the cooks and clerks who feed the forces and keep the records.

The Armed Forces were unified in the late 1960s, and there was a lot of screaming about the new green uniform that came with unification. But is it that important now?

Many senior officers say that going back to the old colors appeals to romantics such as the Royal Canadian Legion - the veterans organization - and people who remember the glory days of World War II.

Not many in the Armed Forces still remember. ''About 75 percent of the people in the forces have never worn anything but the green uniform,'' said an officer charged with looking into the matter. ''I guess the navy misses (the old uniforms) more than anyone else.''

But this is a promise the Tories have to keep. It is going to show up on television screens and on the front pages of newspapers when the Armed Forces get their new uniforms next year. It will show up in the federal deficit a short time later.

''It could cost as much as $130 million (Canadian). We could get a few new battle tanks for that money,'' an officer says.

None of the military men want to be identified. They know this is a popular issue with the new defense minister, Robert Coates, who is from the Atlantic provinces. They are the home base of the navy and perhaps the spot in Canada where nostalgia for the old uniforms - especially in the navy - is strongest.

Outfitting a soldier, whether an infantryman or a supply clerk, involves more than a quick change of clothes. There are a summer uniform, a winter uniform, and work clothes.

At present the support staff can move from one unit to another since the naval, army, and air branches wear the same green. It is estimated that 5,000 to 8,000 more support staff might be needed if the separate uniforms lead away from unification and back to three distinct services.

One way to solve that is to keep the support staff in green. But that too poses problems.

''The green-suited support staff would become second-class citizens in the Armed Forces. It would be terrible for morale,'' says an officer. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we promise to get rid of green.

So far here is what the new forces will look like. The navy will get its beloved dark blue back. The air force will return to light blue, and the army.... Well the army is a problem. They could stay in green or they could go to khaki. The Christian Diors of the Canadian Armed Forces have yet to make up their minds.

The new uniforms are a certainty. There is no turning back from this campaign promise. Mr. Coates wants the change completed in a year. Senior officers a year and a half is more likely.

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