David Sluus has made some major life decisions recently: The 20-year-old dropped out of college, joined the Marine Corps and converted to Catholicism.
He says that each decision helped him grow in maturity and faith. "I've become more spiritual," Private Sluus told The Evangelist.
Last fall at his parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Watervliet, he started the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program for people wanting to become Catholic. When he finished RCIA, he received permission to be confirmed earlier than most candidates because he was leaving for boot camp in January.
Private Sluus, a native of North Greenbush, was raised Protestant. He attended a Baptist church and a non-denominational church and Christian schools.
In high school, though, he said he fell in with the "wrong crowd" and began losing his faith.
Private Sluus' best friend, Caleb Tremblay, began questioning religion and diving into books about faith while his buddy attended Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., in the fall of 2010. Mr. Tremblay would chat about his newfound knowledge on the phone while Private Sluus "tried to act interested."
Private Sluus wasn't enjoying coursework in his selected major - show production - and was doing things he wasn't proud of, like smoking and overspending.
"I lost control," he said.
Four months after starting school, he returned home to reevaluate his life and went back to a former job at Staples. By this point, Mr. Tremblay was immersed in Catholic literature and attending Immaculate Heart of Mary parish. His behavior started to rub off on Private Sluus.
Catholicism "seemed to have the most truth," he explained. "It kind of sparked my interest. Just to see him come from where he was really hit me."
Converting was a natural next step, though Private Sluus still respects his family's faith. "I don't disagree with what Protestants say," he noted. "Protestants and Catholics pretty much believe the same thing [with different practices]. It was more like adding on."
Watervliet parishioners welcomed Private Sluus with open arms, and his newfound faith helped him through three months of boot camp.
A military career had been "in the back of [his] mind" since childhood, he said, as he'd admired his uncle, a police officer, and watched western movies.
But an impulse finally motivated him to commit to the Marines: After hearing about them on the way to a party, "I probably gave it 30 minutes of thought total" before making the decision to enlist. "It was more of a whim than anything. I love excitement and adventure. You just gotta go with it and see where it takes you."
He specifically wanted a military option that allowed him to study criminal justice, prepared him for the police academy - he hopes to join the Los Angeles Police Department's SWAT team - and challenged the "easy life" he'd been living.
Boot camp in South Carolina did so. Every day, he woke at 4 a.m. (3 a.m. if he was on guard duty) for a day filled with physical training, studying, confidence courses and hikes with 60-pound packs.
He also trained in water fully clothed and holding rifles and packs, simulated diving out of a helicopter and removed armor and helmets underwater.
All the barked orders from drill sergeants broke Private Sluus' confidence at times.
"Certain days were just so hard" that he cried in the laundry room, he said. But praying the Rosary, attending weekly Mass and reading Fulton Sheen's "Wartime Prayer Book," a gift from Mr. Tremblay, helped. "I was constantly calling on God to try to help me through stuff."
In his company of 291 privates, Private Sluus also distributed communion and counseled his peers.
The new Marine completed boot camp April 13 and took a break before heading to infantry training at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"Our discipline grew. Our maturity grew," he said. "I've noticed I'm a lot more confident. I feel right now that I could pretty much take on any task."
After training, Private Sluus could be deployed to Australia, Africa, Afghanistan or "pretty much anywhere." While he waits, he's been studying Bible verses and prayer books that reconcile Catholic faith with war.
"Fighting and war can be just - as long as the ideas behind it are correct," Private Sluus said. "The way I see it, you're fighting for freedom. It's not just you over there. Your greatest weapon is the man standing next to you. You're constantly watching out for him."