OXFORD — A retired U.S. Air Force major general is poised to enter the Democratic primary contest in a bid to unseat four-term Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

“I miss serving,”  Jonathan “Tracer” Treacy, said over coffee recently at Daddy O’s Diner on Main Street.

Jonathan “Tracer” Treacy, a retired major general, is likely to enter the Democratic primary for the chance to take on U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in next year’s general election.

Treacy, 61, called himself fiscally and socially responsible. He said he is determined to push for pragmatic policies that can help restore America’s democratic institutions, address the national debt and deal with the serious threat posed by climate change.

A pilot who flew in combat operations in Libya and Iraq, Treacy commanded other fighter pilots during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and told them directly to prepare to shoot down civilian airliners if they appeared to be under the control of terrorists.

If Treacy opts to get into the race, he would join state Speaker Sara Gideon, lobbyist Betsy Sweet and Saco lawyer Bre Kidman hoping to snag the party’s nomination in a primary next June. Other Democrats, including Lewiston attorney James Howaniec, are also eyeing the contest.

Though Collins is already a candidate for re-election in 2020, she has said she won’t make a final decision about whether to run again until the fall.

Treacy said that Collins used to be one of the senators he most admired, but he’s changed his mind.

Treacy said her support of a $1.5 trillion tax bill of “absolutely staggering irresponsibility” in 2017 was a betrayal and her excuses for backing it “nothing more than pablum.”

He said that her 2018 vote in favor of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh also highlighted her “rationalization and empty gestures and abdication.”

“She’s not who we voted for a little less than five years ago,” the retired general said. He said many Mainers feel like “the jilted boyfriend or girlfriend” when they think of Collins now because of the way she threw them over in an apparent bid to shore up her GOP base.

Treacy grew up in New Jersey as a Republican, but during the course of a 34-year military career he became a Democrat because, he said, his party left him with its support for “economic tomfoolery” and refusal to listen to scientists. He is especially irked by its support for President Donald Trump.

The president, he said, “is good at keeping people lathered up about something” but not much else. He said Trump’s extreme, demeaning rhetoric and the way he “goes around bludgeoning allies” are not serving the nation.

“A commander-in-chief with no significant self-control is problematic at best,” Treacy said.

Using a construction analogy, he added, “Any fool can bulldoze things over. Building is an art — and we are in desperate need of building.”

USAF photo.

Treacy earned a degree in 1980 in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he met his wife, Debra.

He began his military career right out of college, determined to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a fighter pilot. He turned out to be a pretty good one, ending up as an instructor who ultimately logged more than 3,300 flying hours, primarily in the F/A-18 and F-15.

Treacy went on to hold many senior command positions, including stints as the deputy director for Antiterrorism and Homeland Defense, commander of Joint Task Force Civil Support and acting director of staff for the National Guard.

At various points, he worked with every branch of the military, including the Coast Guard, and lived in many places around the country.

“It was as rewarding a career as I ever could have imagined,”  Treacy said.

Early in his career, on patrol off the coast of Libya, Treacy said the Libyans sent a plane toward U.S. Navy ships offshore, a move that appeared on radar to be an attack. But Treacy, peering across the miles from his cockpit, said it looked like a civilian airliner to him. He let it pass without incident.

It wouldn’t be the last time that airliners were in the crosshairs.

On 9/11, Treacy served as the flight supervisor for an Air National Guard unit based on Cape Cod. He was on the phone with counterparts in Boston about a possible hijacking before almost anyone knew anything about it.

Within minutes, two fighters were airborne, roaring toward New York City,  uncertain what was going on.

After hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, the threat became obvious, but with thousands of planes in the air, its scope remained a mystery.

Treacy said at one point — apparently about 45 minutes after the initial hijacking occurred — he addressed about 10 military pilots preparing to take off. They were particularly concerned about one plane at that time that appeared to be under the attackers’ control.

“We don’t know what the aircraft is,” he said he told the pilots, but it may be used as a weapon.

An F-15 Eagle from the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Fighter Wing flies a combat air patrol mission over New York City after 9/11. (USAF photo)

Treacy said he asked for four volunteers to step forward “and, if necessary, shoot that airliner down,” all aware it might entail slaughtering hundreds of innocent passengers.

“Not one of them declined” to do whatever was necessary, Treacy said, not even one pilot who had to take off without any weapons, a situation that meant his only option would have been to slam his own plane into the target.

He said he told them they were embarking on a mission in which they could not fail.

In the end, on what Treacy called that “terrible, terrible day,” four hijacked planes crashed — two in New York, one at the Pentagon and one in a field in Pennsylvania — without any American pilots forced to make a harrowing choice.

He said his unit did everything possible, but the attack itself laid bare “a lack of imagination on what could happen” that served as a wake-up call for the military and the nation, showing the need for creativity in assessing threats and for paying attention to the lessons of history.

During his long stint at the Cape Cod base, Treacy bought a home in Oxford on a lake his wife had visited often as a child. They both had happy memories of summers in Maine, he said, and wanted a place they could go with their own children that might someday serve as a retirement home.

They’ve been living there full-time for only a couple of years — voting in Maine for  the first time in 2018 — but the place has long been a constant in a nomadic military career.

Treacy said he long ago came to admire Mainers for their self-reliance, strength and independence.

“They don’t want to be led by the nose. They want to make their own way,” he said, with a sense of both pragmatism and tolerance.

Treacy said he hopes Maine voters will give him a chance to show that he can accomplish the mission of defeating Collins and taking aim at the most serious issues facing Americans.

He said the Senate needs more of the integrity and “culture of professionalism” that permeates the military.

Though Treacy said he recognizes that he faces “a very steep climb” to have a shot in the strange world of politics, he believes there is a growing appetite for his approach.

“We’re kind of searching for our soul right now,” he said. “We have allowed ourselves to be mad at our neighbor — and to what end?”

Far better, he said, would be a recognition that “the key to everything is a healthy, educated and skilled workforce” with political leadership that puts the country first and seeks common ground.

Treacy said he doesn’t have a timeline for making a formal announcement of his plans.

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