Bob Hanby, an employee of an East Columbus water cooler manufacturer now known as OASIS Corp., thought he was on another routine sales call in Kuwait when he checked into a Sheraton hotel there July 31, 1990.
At about 5 a.m., however, he heard gunfire. About an hour and a half later, he received a call to his room: There was an emergency-he should report to the lobby.
When he got there, Iraqis, who had invaded Kuwait that morning, were waiting. They grouped all the hotel guests together outside and took control of the building.
About two hours later, when he was permitted to return to his room for a few days until he was transported to Baghdad, Iraq, he managed to leave a message on an answering machine at home to tell his family what little news he had: Iraqis had invaded; he did not know what would happen next; he would call them again if he got a chance.
It was the last word his family and fellow employees at OASIS would hear from him for more than two months. Hanby, a regional sales manager for his company, was one of many people taken hostage for use as human shields during the Middle East conflict.
"It was such a feeling of helplessness," says OASIS President Pete Benua, who at the time was the company's executive vice president. "We did all we could, but you're so far away."
OASIS management immediately began helping Hanby's wife, Lisa, find out more about her husband by contacting U.S. Rep. John R. Kasich's office and the State Department in Washington, D.C.
The company also guaranteed Hanby's salary and benefits while he was held captive and provided attorneys to help Lisa finish the purchase of a new home, which had been started before Hanby arrived in Kuwait.
"Essentially we tried to make it so he wouldn't have any worries here so he could focus on whatever he had to do to become a free man again," Benua says.
The company management also provided a pager for Hanby's wife in case they got any word from him.
Shortly before Thanksgiving-after President Bush complained about the treatment of the hostages, Hanby noticed-he was permitted to make monitored phone calls home approximately once a week. His wife was able to send messages to him over Voice of America radio.
Hanby's hostage-takers ferried him to different military targets until his release Dec. 7, 1990.
Tom Benua, then OASIS president and now company chairman, flew on the company's aircraft to Washington, D.C., to bring Hanby and two other hostages back to Columbus following their release.
When the war ended, OASIS resumed exporting its water cooler products to the Middle East, which is still part of its international sales area. Benua says the company never considered pulling its products permanently out of the area, which makes up less than 5 percent of its business, and "never had any doubt in our heart that we would get Bob back safe and sound."
Hanby and Benua say company employees who travel internationally now attempt to stay safe by heeding travel agent and State Department advisories.
"The sales people know their territories," says Benua, noting that about 25 percent of OASIS business is conducted abroad. "They're not just going to amble into some dangerous area unknowingly. They're going to know what they're doing."
He advises any company doing business abroad to keep in contact with someone in those countries who is aware of the circumstances there.
"You can learn so much more so quickly if you have someone there who is able to help you get around and who is able to teach you about the culture, the economic climate and the business climate," Benua says.
Hanby credits OASIS with helping him and his family through the ordeal and is grateful for the armed forces, without whom, he surmises, he might never have returned safely.
"The [hostages] themselves, when they come back, could have just been totally destroyed by the whole thing," Hanby says. "A lot of that is being worried about support from the company and how is your family being taken care of. This company, they were there all the way."