The 26-year-old former Army Ranger targeted for beheading by the Islamic State found his calling in delivering aid to Syrian refugees — part of his desire "to be a peacemaker," according to a statement released Sunday by his parents.
Abdul-Rahman Kassig — listed as Peter Edward Kassig in Army records — served from June 2006 to September 2007. He spent that time based in Georgia, training for at Fort Benning before joining 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based out of Hunter Army Airfield.
He deployed with that unit to Iraq from April to July 2007, according to Army Human Resources Command.
He received a medical discharge that September as a private first class, Army records show; further details on the discharge were not provided.
His awards include the Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal with campaign star, Army Service Ribbon and Parachutist badge.
More than seven years after leaving uniform and about a year after his capture by Islamic State forces, Kassig has been identified by the terror group as its next target for beheading.
The warning came in a video released Friday by the group, also known as ISIL, which appeared to show the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning. It was the fourth such video released by the group in recent weeks, according to USA Today.
Kassig's parents released a video Saturday asking for their son's release, and a statement Sunday in response to "many questions about our son's conversion to Islam." That statement stressed that the former soldier's path to conversion began before his October 2013 capture, including participating in the Ramadan fast the previous summer.
A former hostage told Kassig's parents that Kassig "voluntarily converted to Islam sometime between October and December 2013." The family said they "see this as a part of our son's long spiritual journey," and discussed in the video the family's long tradition of humanitarian efforts.
Kassig, from Indianapolis, developed an interest in the humanitarian crisis in Syria while in college after his discharge, according to an Indianapolis Star report. A spring break trip to Lebanon in 2012 combined with a desire to break from the traditional academic path — he "was too restless to do the school routine," a Hanover College official told the Star — led him to Turkey, where he founded the Special Emergency Response and Assistance program months after his spring break trip.
What began as the desire to supply refugees in northern Syria with blankets became an all-out push to provide food and medical supplies, Kassig told Time magazine in a 2013 article. A September 2013 Reed magazine profile of one of Kassig's SERA co-workers, Eliot Stempf, explained how Kassig, "who's an EMT ... frequently forays into war-torn Syrian towns ... to lead training sessions, distribute supplies and provide basic medical care."
The SERA website gives a window into the risks Kassig and others in the group took to provide this aid: "Our efforts, however small, are focused on providing acute logistical support and assistance in areas too difficult for other humanitarian organizations to effectively operate. Typically, this means conflict zones."
The group has ceased operations "due to the present security situation in Syria," according to the website.