Born and raised in Waimanalo, Ikaika Kang graduated from Kaiser High School in 2001.
A young Kang loved surfing at Makapuu and playing baseball and football. He entered the Army in December 2001, a few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The soldier was briefly into mixed martial arts, competing in a couple of tournaments in Kansas City, Mo., while stationed at Fort Riley.
Sgt. 1st Class Kang, an air traffic control operator, served two tours in the Middle East — the first in Iraq and the second in Afghanistan.
Stationed at Schofield Barracks for nearly three years now, he’s back home and closer to his father, Clifford Kang, an Army veteran who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in the Vietnam War.
“He’s far from being a bad kid,” Clifford Kang said of his only son.
Kang said he was devastated when he learned the FBI arrested his son over the weekend for alleged ties to the terrorist group Islamic State.
“Nobody told me anything. This is the first time I heard about it,” Kang said when he was first contacted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser by telephone early Monday afternoon as news was breaking of the arrest. “I’m kind of stunned, to tell you the truth.”
Kang said his son never pledged his allegiance to IS. “I never heard of him being with ISIS,” Kang said, using an alternate acronym for the group.
By late afternoon Monday the elder Kang was still struggling with the news.
“I don’t really know what’s going on,” Kang said as he stood in his manicured yard at his Kailua home. “It makes it much harder that they’re not letting you know,” he said, noting that he had still not been notified by the FBI about the arrest.
Kang said his son started studying Islam two to three years ago during his deployment in Afghanistan. “He’s really strong in his belief in the Muslim faith,” he said.
He said he last saw his son about two weeks ago when Ikaika visited him at the house: “He came over and bought some steak. I made a fire, and he cooked it and washed dishes and he had a friend with him.”
After returning to Hawaii for duty at Schofield Barracks, Ikaika Kang lived with his father for a year before moving to an apartment in Royal Kunia to be closer to the base.
Clifford Kang said he was concerned whether his son suffered from PTSD after his return from Afghanistan.
“He was withdrawn,” he said, noting his son didn’t suffer any physical injuries in his two tours.
Kang said his son’s promotion to sergeant first class came in the last six months, and recalled telling him how proud he was of him serving in the Army and his position as an air traffic controller.
Still, he worried about the level of stress involving his son’s position. “I know he has a tough job in air traffic control,” Kang said.
“I kept on telling him, ‘Being an air traffic controller (is) too stressful. You can always change your MOS (military occupational specialty) and they will understand.’ And he said, ‘I can handle.’”
Ikaika Kang is being represented by a court-appointed attorney.
“It would appear that Sgt. Kang, a decorated veteran of two deployments to the Middle East, may have some service-related mental health issues which the government was aware of but neglected to treat,” attorney Birney Bervar told the Star-Advertiser late Monday.
Clifford Kang’s black 2014 Ford Mustang was driven by a friend in the Fourth of July Parade in Kailua last week, bearing a sticker in the left corner of the front windshield: “Proud Parent of a U.S. Soldier.”