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A tour of duty with military gadgets

September 09, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

The History Channel has its own military makeover show now. "Queer Eye for the GI"? Well, not quite.

Rather, it's "Tactical to Practical," a new series that looks at how battlefield technology is transformed for consumer use. The show, which is hosted by former Navy fighter pilot and "Survivor: Marquesas" contestant Hunter Ellis, premieres tonight at 9.

If you're expecting some heavy poetic waxing over the beating of swords into ploughshares, you'd best not look here. "Tactical to Practical" takes a boys-and-their-toys approach, showing Ellis at play in a variety of situations: riding in a tank, parachuting out of a plane, running a cross-country race with the aid of a global positioning device. No one would accuse him of being a couch potato.

Tonight's premiere gets off to a lumbering start, however, as Ellis explores how the Humvee, a star of the Gulf War, became the monster SUV called the Hummer. It amounts to little more than an ad for the H1 and H2, emphasizing their sturdiness and intimidation factor on the road. Other than a brief mention of the vehicles' low miles per gallon, there's not a peep about the concerns that apparently drove environmentalists to vandalize four dealerships recently.

The next segments are about applications that are quite a bit less controversial: night vision and global positioning systems. Perhaps because these are more one-dimensional topics, "Tactical to Practical" seems to cover their development just fine, with plenty of historical footage, expert interviews and Ellis' mugging.

The series' second episode, next Tuesday, also shows some interesting applications of tank treads, satellite imagery and parachutes.

Just don't say the technology has gone from olive-drab to fab.

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