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Keeping history on schedule
Covington man coordinates inauguration events

COVINGTON - Millions of people will be attending and watching today's inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

One Covington man will have the thrill of knowing he helped make it happen.

Air Force Reserve Capt. Toney D. Collins is one of more than 700 military members supporting the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, a joint-services organization formed to coordinate all military participation and support for the 10-day period of inaugural events.

"I am the officer in charge of all of the joint ushers during the inaugural ceremony. We usher in guests and seat them on the west front lawn and also the platform where the swearing-in ceremony is taking place," said Collins, speaking via cell phone Monday from Washington, D.C., where he has spent the past two months preparing for the event.

In charge of 225 military ushers, Collins has been putting in up to 14 hours a day, often in frigid temperatures, to make sure today's ceremony goes smoothly.

But for him, witnessing this moment in history has been well worth the hard work.

"I grew up in a time when I didn't see a lot of high-up black positive role models. Being a part of this historic event and being able to actually work it, it's hard to put into words. I'm grateful. It's one of the most memorable times in my military career, one of the most memorable missions I have ever worked," he said.

Memorable, too, was his recent face-to-face meeting with Obama.

"He came over to thank us for our work on the ceremony. We got a chance to meet and talk with him and he seemed like a very nice, cordial guy," Collins said.

By Monday afternoon, the capitol was energized by an influx of people wanting to stake their claim on history.

A record turnout is predicted for today's swearing-in ceremony, with some estimates as high as 3 million.

So far, the mood there is mostly festive, Collins said.

"They're as prepared as they can be. That's a lot of people coming into a city that is already crowded. I think people are so excited about this historic inauguration. Everybody's fine. Everybody's got a great, positive attitude," he said.

This will mark the 56th time the U.S. military has helped to welcome the incoming commander in chief, a tradition that dates back to the first president, George Washington.

Whether performing as a member of the color guard, serving as a driver, street security, usher or escort for distinguished visitors, participating in marching bands, salute batteries or working behind the scenes as contingency support personnel, Collins and other military members undergo intensive training and preparation for the ceremonial support they will provide.

Inaugural day events include the swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the U.S. Capitol; the two-mile inaugural parade from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, which will include a procession of ceremonial military regiments, citizen groups, marching bands and floats; and 10 official inaugural balls.

Collins said he was to be up at 2:30 a.m. today to prepare for the swearing-in ceremony, which is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol.

Collins' mother, Katie Johnson, also of Covington, is proud to have two children attending the inauguration: Collins' older brother is going as a spectator.

Though Johnson won't be able to make it to the inauguration, she has a message for her son to pass on to the Obamas.

"I told him to ask them did they need a nanny," she said.

Collins is married to Kristina Collins, a teacher at Newton High School, and is father to sons Tony II and Ty.

He is normally assigned as a civil service worker at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.