I was at the beach with my family when my brother Austin called. His program at Georgetown Law School had prevented him from joining us. I slipped into an empty room in the little house we were renting and listened, amazed, as he told me he was planning a trip to Syria that summer of 2012, and asked me to come with him.
To this day, I’m not sure why he asked me. We had been together on some adventures, at Glacier National Park and the beautiful Pacific Northwest where I have established my home, but nothing comes close to these stakes. Perhaps he believed that I was ready, that I had the same adventurous spirit that burned in him, and that I would seize the opportunity, fresh out of college with vague plans for the future, to help him change the world.
I refused it. I couldn’t imagine myself in those circumstances, untrained, lacking the war zone experience he had as a three-tour Marine Corps veteran. I encouraged him to follow his heart, to witness the escalation of the conflict in Syria. I believed in his vision, admired his grit and was completely behind him. He left in May.
On August 14, 2012, he disappeared at a checkpoint outside Damascus.
My family lost eight years …
This was 2,960 days ago at the time of this writing. I have not heard from my brother since. No one has claimed responsibility for his detention. Each of those days, and every day, my family wakes up hoping, praying, that this will be the last day of his captivity.
I think about that phone call when I read about Austin now, and how easily my name could have been next to hers. I think about what he endured in captivity and what he missed: all the birthdays, weddings and births, Thanksgiving and Christmases, that my family and I celebrated without him. In dark times I wonder if maybe, maybe, I could have made a difference. Maybe I would have said, “We shouldn’t get into this car”, maybe the hairs on the back of the neck would have risen at the offer and we would have taken another route. Maybe he wouldn’t have stayed that long if he’d felt responsible for keeping me, his thin, inexperienced, intellectualized little brother, safe.
I don’t dwell on those thoughts, but they persisted. They grew slowly under the awareness that this wasn’t going to be fixed quickly, that he wouldn’t be coming home in a few days or weeks. Under the pride of every award he has received and every column calling for his return, they persist. The thought of what he endured in eight years is renewed in everyone; I can’t help it. I could have been there.
… Don’t let us lose a ninth
No president in our history has made more personal efforts than President Donald Trump to bring home US citizens detained abroad. Our president has made it clear several times: the return of the Americans is a deeply personal priority for him. It was from him this March that America first heard Austin’s name spoken aloud by a president. That day my heart leapt. My family appreciates the powerful effort this administration is making to bring him home. We felt the progress, heartbreaking inch by inch.
Now, as we approach the ninth holiday season with an empty seat for our family’s Thanksgiving, a ninth Christmas spent wondering if Austin can see the stars, my brothers and sisters and I implore you from the bottom of our hearts: please Help me.
Please contact your congressional representatives. Tell them the story of the brother we love. Tell them it’s a priority to see Austin’s safest and quickest return. Tell them to use their power to urge the president to get Austin back to our Thanksgiving table. Every second that remains in captivity cuts a deeper wound in my family’s heart and we can’t wait any longer. Help us make this summer the last to be alone and give 2020 a spark of brightness we so desperately need.
Join the campaign. Ask for Austin Tice. Bring it home.
Jacob Tice is the middle child of seven brothers. You can learn more about Austin at AustinTiceFamily.com.