It's been more than 2,922 days since Austin Tice, Marine, journalist, son and brother, was captured in Syria.
He turned 39 on Tuesday. Aug. 14. The day will also mark eight years since his abduction near Damascus. Eight years his family has worked tirelessly to free him. Eight years they've felt his absence every moment of every day.
But this year, the family has renewed hope and momentum to bring Tice home. During a March press briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, for the first time and with the world watching, President Donald Trump called on the Syrian government to free him. On Friday, he renewed that call.
“We have one young gentleman, Austin Tice, we’re working very hard with Syria to get him out,” Trump said in March. “We hope the Syrian government will do that. We are counting on them to do that.” The president said his administration had written a letter to the Syrian government asking for Tice's release.
"Please work with us," Trump appealed. "We would appreciate you letting him out ... It would be very much appreciated if they would let Austin Tice out immediately."
The president said he knew Tice's parents were watching and vowed to them that "we're doing the best we can."
On Friday, the president released a statement about Tice.
"I am again calling on Syria to help us bring him home," the statement read. "There is no higher priority in my Administration than the recovery and return of Americans missing abroad. The Tice family deserves answers. We stand with the Tice family and will not rest until we bring Austin home."
In a separate statement Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration has "repeatedly attempted to engage Syrian officials to seek Austin's release.
"No one should doubt the President’s commitment to bringing home all U.S. citizens held hostage or wrongfully detained overseas. Nowhere is that determination stronger than in Austin Tice’s case.”
Through two presidents and countless waves of change in those administrations, Debra and Marc Tice have worked with many United States officials, hoping to bring their son home. But this was the first time a president publicly advocated for his release, and they know the Syrian government is willing to talk.
"We weren't expecting it at all," Marc said of the president's announcement. "The public declaration... We couldn't have asked for anything better. He said exactly what we would say -- Austin needs to come home and we need the collaboration and cooperation of the Syrian government to please work with us."
Marc said he knows Trump's words were "from the heart" because the family received a photograph, taken behind the president's shoulder during his comments, that showed his pages of notes.
"You can see that the page on the left side, in the middle there's a blank space and it just said 'Austin Tice' in big, bold letters," Marc said.
Now, the family hopes to use the will and attention of the president to make major strides to return Tice safely.
"It adds to our sense of urgency to have the appropriate follow-through of the president's commitment," Marc told Connecting Vets from the family's Texas home, the day after his son's 39th birthday.
As a major election looms, Marc said the family is used to change and will continue to work with any administration with the authority to help their son, though they don't want to lose any progress they've made so far.
"We expect changeover, but we're always worried about bringing people up to speed and losing momentum," he said. "We want to maintain that and channel it along with the president's commitment."
The family tries not to think so far ahead, though.
"Our hope never changes," Marc said. "We don't want to plan for three months from now because we believe he'll be home by then. We're focused on getting him here."
In May 2012, Tice entered Syria from the Turkish border. Over the course of about three months, he made his way south into the suburbs of Damascus. The Marine captain and law student-turned journalist was reporting on the Syrian civil war.
His parents were in touch with him most every day, either directly or through another journalist, his editor or friends. The day after his 31st birthday, Tice told his dad he was preparing to leave the country and planned to exit through Lebanon and come home to complete his final year of law school.
“He had warned us that he might be out of touch for a day or two because of the risk and circumstance of traveling through the countryside,” Marc said. Tice got in a taxi, but he never made it to the Lebanese border.
When two days stretched into three, Tice's parents began to worry. Marc reached out to his editors and began calling around to see if anyone had heard from him. No one had.
Soon after The Washington Post told the State Department one of their journalists was missing in Syria.
“That’s when this horrible story began,” Marc said.
About a month after Tice's abduction, a video titled "Austin Tice is Alive" surfaced that appeared to show Tice taken captive by a group of men. But no credible information about who those men are has surfaced. It was the last time the public got a glimpse of Tice.
Now, eight years later, Tice's family, supporters and fellow journalists have continued the push to keep his name in the headlines and garner support from the American government to bring him home. Nearly 200 members of Congress signed on to support the effort. Tice's photos were on display in buildings housing Capitol Hill lawmakers' offices. Volunteers "stormed the Hill" to raise awareness. The National Press Club has held events and press briefings all to bring attention to Tice's captivity.
The best way to help those efforts, Marc said, is to continue to ask about Tice whenever possible.
"We're focused on holding the people in our government accountable," he said. "So even though a lot of what you'll hear is 'We can't tell you that," that's OK because in the asking there's a lot of power and it makes a difference."
The family has yet to receive a credible claim of responsibility for Tice's detainment, but say they know he’s not held by any opposition forces or terrorist groups.
“The most important thing that we know is he is alive,” Marc said previously. “He, as best the information we have can tell us, is being taken care of. There’s every reason to keep working as hard as we can and our government can and others who are helping us to get him home." The family has said they believe Tice is being held, most likely, by "someone affiliated with or in support of the Syrian government."
But no matter who or what has kept Tice from his family, friends and homeland for eight long years, his family's unwavering hope and determination will undoubtedly be the force that brings him home.
"I have no doubt that when he gets home and gets back on the track that he wants to be on that this experience is going to make him better at who he wants to be," Marc said. "You come out the other side of difficult experiences like military service, or even something like this, more than you were before -- not less. Austin will be more than he was before. And we'll be here to support him."
On Friday, the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. unveiled a "Freedom Clock" counting down the time Tice has spent in captivity. When he returns home, Press Club leaders said Tice will be the one to stop that clock.
Marc shared a message to his son, days before the eight-year mark of his captivity.
"Austin, be strong. Hang in there. Know that we are doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as we can, and there are so many people who are focused on helping you get back home. Just hang in there, keep it together. We know how strong you are. We love you. We're coming."