News Stories

Dedicated to friendship

By Joseph Coslett and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephanie Hill Defense Information School


In January 1985, as a buck sergeant in the Air Force, Wes Ellenburg arrived at Iraklion Air Station on Crete to be a news anchor with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service.

It wasn’t long before he noticed a difference between Nikos Markakis, the news director, and the other Greek workers at the station.

“Most of the Greeks, because of their passion, when they talked with you, you thought they were angry with you,” recalled Ellenburg, now the director of the Faculty Training and Development Office at the Defense Information School on Fort Meade. “Not this guy. He was always happy, always smiling. He was much easier to get to know, and he didn’t scare you.”

Delivering live news was no easy feat, but – through his professionalism as well as his confidence – Markakis ensured Ellenburg’s success.

“Nikos put me at ease,” Ellenburg said. “I can count the number of errors on one hand. He was Mr. Consistent and very methodical at putting the newscast together. It made me feel comfortable to know that Nikos was on the other side of the glass, directing me.”

Markakis continued to run a solid program, and he and his fellow Greeks continued to form strong friendships with their American colleagues until the station closed more than 20 years ago.

Chris Girdis, the engineer who turned on the power at AFRTS Iraklion in 1956, returned to help the station sign off for the last time on June 13, 1994.

“Today, I’m very, very sad because today, I lose my family,” Girdis said.

The relationships didn’t end then, however. They have been renewed at annual reunions, most recently in Dayton, Ohio, in June.

Markakis’ journey into the broadcasting field started in 1972 when he got out of the Greek military and a friend at Iraklion helped him find a job as a film librarian.

“They put me in a big room with a lot of racks of film, and my job was to deliver the films every morning to the station and give them the product,” he said.

“I started with splicing films,” he said. “We laugh now, but it was a very difficult job.”

If a splice came apart in a projector, the station would broadcast nothing but black.

As the years passed, AFRTS moved from film to videotapes to digital processes, and Markakis adapted. He trained generations of U.S. service members and volunteered to solve problems.

“They asked, ‘Who was going to load the 6 o’clock news? Who is going to run coverage for the news tonight?’ I responded, ‘I will do it.’ ”

As Markakis stepped up, he recognized the importance of the news director position.

“I knew what I was doing at the time was a very serious thing,” he said. “What I learned, I kept telling everyone: ‘When you do this type of job, you keep in mind the double check.’

“TV directing is like flying an airplane,” he said. “If you don’t double-check everything, then there is a possibility of making mistakes.”

Ellenburg saw the evidence of Markakis’ singular focus.

When others, including Americans, filled the news director job, slides would be backward and videos would be late.

Such mistakes hurt the station’s credibility while Markakis’ dedication preserved it, Ellenburg said.

After more than 20 years with AFRTS, Markakis retired when he received word that Iraklion Air Station was closing.

“I felt very bad,” he said. “I knew when I was going to the Greek system, I wouldn’t like it.”

But, he said, “In life, we have to live with whatever happens.”

Markakis soon started a Greek television station that eventually became the top station in Crete. Full commitment made the difference, he said.

“In order to succeed, give all of yourself to what you are doing for a living,” Markakis said. “Your job is the first thing you love. If you succeed in your job, then everything else you love will be a success. If you are not good at your job, and you don’t take it as the first thing in your life, then maybe you will lose everything in your life.”

The AFRTS alumni kept in touch through the years and then began to hold annual reunions called Splash Day in honor of a tradition of opening the base marina and beach to U.S. service members each Memorial Day. 

At a reunion on Crete two years ago, Markakis mentioned that he had never visited the United States, so his old friends took him to Dayton for the 2016 Splash Day and added a tour of the East Coast.

Throughout his 10-day visit, they kept him busy with tours of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., where he saw a Major League Baseball game at Nationals Park.

On Fort Meade, Ellenburg provided a tour of DINFOS and the Defense Media Activity, the parent organization of DINFOS and AFRTS, and the DMA director,  Ray Shepherd, presented Markakis with a hat and coin to thank him for his many years of dedicated service.

Markakis definitely enjoyed the trip, Ellenburg said.

“It was important for him to visit the country that he supported for 21 years,” he said. “I could tell he was proud by the look on his face.  He said it was the memory of a lifetime.”