‘Unconventional’ Demystifies Military Life While Showing the Power of a New Generation of Veterans

An Alaska National Guard soldier prepares to 'sling' a Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) aboard a Chinook helicopter during a training operation on 'Unconventional.' (Newsweek)

For Americans who never joined any branch of the U.S. military, what members of the armed forces do every day might seem like nothing short of a miracle. How does the Alaska National Guard reach every corner of a state that has fewer roads than Delaware? How do B-52 Stratofortress bomber crews spend days in flight? How does the USS Gerald Ford feed 5,000 people a day while at sea?

For service members and veterans, these things are just a part of the job; we know how to get the stuff to the fight, as the saying goes. "Unconventional" is a Newsweek web series hosted by Navy veteran, former spy and author of "How to Catch a Russian Spy" Naveed Jamali that goes behind the scenes to show viewers the million little details that keep the U.S. military moving with its mission.

"It's geared toward a mom in Kansas City, whose daughter just joined the military. She's excited and proud, but nervous because she has no idea what to expect for her daughter," Jamali told Military.com. "Our job is to both humanize these young people in the military and demystify what it's like to be in the military."

So far, "Unconventional" has trained with Marine Corps infantry, flown with a B-52 bomber crew and walked the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. It begins its second season on May 15, 2024, with an episode detailing what it's like to be in the Alaska National Guard, not just working for the state, but also operating so close to major geopolitical rival Russia.

Although Jamali and his crew are passionate about showing young people the opportunities for careers in military service, "Unconventional" isn't a recruiting commercial. It doesn't talk about the benefits of serving and isn't going to spend a whole episode showing how cool fighter pilots are. Instead, it looks at the men and women who work the nuts and bolts of everyday military life.

"It takes an army to make an army work," Jamali said. "Our job with these episodes is not for a military audience. We want to show the people that make stuff happen. There are young people who would be perfect for the military, who would thrive in it. They just don't know what options there are and what career fields are available to them."

The series does have interviews with installation commanders, but it's not investigative reporting and it's not out to answer strategic questions. The people explaining how things work on "Unconventional" are junior enlisted personnel and company-grade officers, men and women from Harlem to the Pacific Northwest who volunteered to serve in vital positions that are often overlooked.

"We are very focused on young people and why they join," said Jamali. "I think the people who join now are really impressive. I spend a lot of time with them across the military, and that's one of the best parts about this job. They really love what they're doing."

Navy veteran, former spy and host of 'Unconventional' Naveed Jamali. (Newsweek)

"Unconventional" began its run in 2023 and is continuing at a time when all branches of the U.S. military are facing a major recruiting crisis. Jamali believes the show can not only reach families and recruits, but also the places where American youth turn to for life advice and ideas for their future.

"We want to reach the 'influencers'; the auntie, uncle, the grandparent, the parent who that young person's going to turn to for advice," Jamali said. "That older person may have no connection to the military, but [the series] is a good place to get comfortable enough to give advice to a young person."

Jamali also believes "Unconventional" can dispel some of the negative perceptions military-age Americans might have about serving. After growing up through 20 years of constant war, many young Americans might only see military service through the prism of its problems, such as those veterans often encounter with institutions like the Department of Veterans Affairs. Yet, in every episode of the series, the patriotism, dedication and skill young service members have for their work is on display.

In that vein, Jamali is excited to show America -- and the country's potential adversaries -- just what the new generation of service members can do.

An Alaska National Guard soldier prepares to 'sling' a Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV) aboard a Chinook helicopter during a training operation on 'Unconventional.' (Newsweek)

"I want people to know that these young people really are the best this country has to offer," Jamali said. "And I mean that sincerely. I'm proud of them, and we should all be proud of them. I like to think in no small part, showing our people, our capability, our training, the level of lethality that exists and our professionalism, I think that that keeps us safe. We want adversaries to wake up and say, 'Today's not the day.'"

Every episode of the first season of "Unconventional" can be found on the Newsweek website. The first episode of Season 2 featuring the Alaska National Guard is now live and available to watch on YouTube.

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