Each Roaring Chainsaw a Hymn of Progress

Benjamin "Max" TuiToga MaʻAtoe Moe

From the shores of Hawai'i to wherever the next disaster strikes, I’ve been made ready to serve—and found a path that honors my ancestors and fulfills my commitment to humanity.

I am Benjamin ‘Max’ TuiToga MaʻAtoe Moe (two-ee tow-gah mah-ah-toy moy), keeper of our cultural flame at the nonprofit Hawaiʻi organization Koolauloa Foundation and thus a guardian of the past and an architect of the future. I’m also a newly-minted Greyshirt.

As a Marine Corps veteran and Kanaka Maoli—Native Hawaiian—my roots are deeply entwined with the Polynesian tradition of tautua*—the art of serving others. It’s the sinew that holds together the foundations of Polynesian society and propels us to excel as steadfast stewards wherever duty calls.

I’ve lived on Oahu for most of my life, but I joined the Marines and traveled the world being away from my home for 35 years. Now, I’ve returned to my ʻāina—my land—and made Hawaii my home. So, imagine my surprise when, on November 10, 2023, as I journeyed from the familiar hills of the Kahuku Training area to Hauʻula, my birthplace, I stumbled upon an unexpected sight: a brigade of men and women in grey shirts, landed there as if by fate. I soon learned they were clearing the land in preparation for a long-overdue tsunami disaster center. It was as peculiar as finding a fleet of ships in my own backyard, compelling me to embark on a quest of discovery.

Native Hawaiian volunteer standing near front loader
Greyshirt Max TuiToga MaʻAtoe Moe during the 2024 DTC.

I approached them, asking what they were up to. Many, I discovered, were veterans like myself. All, it seemed, shared that principle of tautua. 

“It’s fire mitigation today, tsunami rescue center prep tomorrow. We adapt and overcome,” the incident commander informed me. Ready to trade gunfire for fire guards?”

“Chainsaws and rakes instead of M16s and grenades?,” I replied. “I can adapt.” The resonance was mutual; we shared an unspoken bond, a collective mana—spirit—that bridged our worlds. Team Rubicon’s approach resonated with my military background and my cultural values. The organization’s ethos mirrored my own: a blend of discipline, dedication, and a deep-seated commitment to service. It was as if the ancients had carved this path for me, aligning the stars to guide me to this very moment. Within hours, I’d registered to become a Team Rubicon Greyshirt.

On the Wings of Manu Ose Fusi, a Call to Action

The morning of January 19, 2024, dawned like any other in my quiet corner of Hawaiʻi—until the ping of an email turned it into a day I will never forget. As I sipped my coffee, the subject line caught my eye: “Aloha Greyshirt! Prepare for Deployment.” The message inside revealed an exciting opportunity that would soon become a significant milestone in my life.

Team Rubicon had prepared a disaster training camp, or DTC, specifically for the Hawaiʻi team. It would be an intense, operational-type training held over two weekends, designed to hone our skills in real-world scenarios. Unlike any military operation, though, this mission was about wielding chainsaws instead of guns; fighting calamities instead of combatants. The training promised to equip us native Hawaiians with the skills needed for disaster response, emphasizing real-world applications over theoretical knowledge. 

The excitement I felt was beyond the adrenaline of battle; it was the anticipation of contributing to a cause greater than any one individual. It was a call not just to arms, but to tools—tools to rebuild, recover, and restore.

As I registered for the camp, I visualized the upcoming training sessions—from commanding incidents as a leader to mastering the chainsaw for field operations. Each scenario was designed to forge us into not only responders but protectors and rebuilders of communities. Knowing I would soon be a part of this effort, working alongside veterans and civilians alike, was profoundly motivating.

Like manu ose fusi (coral bird) called to distant horizons, I marked my calendar for the upcoming training dates. And I reflected on what this deployment meant: It was a chance to give back, to use my abilities for a noble cause, and to join a family of people who turn chaos into order. The excitement of this first deployment with Team Rubicon was not just about the adventures that awaited but about the impact we would make together. This, I believed, was more than a deployment; it was the beginning of a lifelong journey of service.

In the Rituals of Labor, A Testament to My Liberation

We descended on Maui’s Camp Maluhia at the beginning of March, 2024, for the DTC. Over the course of 13 days, chainsaw operators trained in hopes of mitigating against future wildfires at the Scout camp and surrounds, and heavy equipment operators were skilled up in order to increase the disaster response capacity on Maui and across the islands. 

As we were trained, we felled trees for the camp, removed debris to assist with wildfire mitigation, and pressure washed, painted, and conducted expedient repairs across the property. It was kōkuā**, and in our training and offering help voluntarily to the camp and others, we strengthened our community ties and the spirit of harmony and cooperation.

A Greyshirt at work during the Hawai’i DTC in March of ’24. Photo courtesy Camp Maluhia.

As a Marine, I was no stranger to rigorous drills, but here, the focus was on precision and safety over speed and aggression. We were taught to handle disasters with the calm of a seasoned soldier and the heart of a community servant.

Each day at the camp brought new challenges and learning opportunities. Whether it was a tabletop exercise simulating emergency scenarios or a day in the field practicing debris removal, every moment was a step towards becoming a more effective disaster response operative.

Here, I began to sculpt my identity anew, becoming a Sawyer—a guardian of the blade and timber, wielding the chainsaw with certified precision and care. Away from the sterile confines of cubicles, I relished the daily rituals of labor, each drop of sweat a testament to my liberation, each roaring chainsaw a hymn of progress.

The sense of belonging was palpable. In Team Rubicon, I found a family bound not by blood but by the shared commitment to aiding those in dire need. It was a profound reminder of kōkuā, of the strength that lies in unity and mutual support.

As we played spades and dominoes in the after hours, I rediscovered camaraderie—not as a lance corporal of old but as a Greyshirt among peers. This time, the flashbacks were not of war’s dark specter but of the warm embrace of brotherhood, of vulnerability turned to strength.

In this newfound brigade, among the Greyshirts of Team Rubicon, I found the sanctuary for my memories and the forge for my future. It is here, in the laughter and the shared toil, that my nightmares are banished, replaced by the solidarity of those who understand that true strength lies in the courage to be vulnerable. These are the days that now define me, kindling the legacy of my ancestors into a flame that guides my way forward.

Finding a Place in the Family That Serves

Now in the twilight of a four-decade odyssey that saw a young native Hawaiian islander become a Marine and then a global citizen, I have found my place among the ranks of Team Rubicon. Within it, I’ve discovered an ʻohana kuleana—family that serves—and a new mission, to serve not just my people, but all of humanity with the same spirit that has guided me from the shores of Polynesia to the far corners of the world.

As I continue my journey with Team Rubicon, each deployment is a reminder of the power of service. It’s a testament to how the skills and disciplines learned in the military can be transformed into tools for humanitarian aid. Each call to action is an opportunity to not just serve but to lead, to teach, and to inspire.

From the shores of Hawai’i to wherever the next disaster strikes, I am ready. Ready to serve, ready to lead, and ready to make a difference. With Team Rubicon, I’ve found my path—a path of service that honors my ancestors and fulfills my commitment to humanity.

In the spirit of tautua, I am home.

Work done by Greyshirts during the DTC. Photo courtesy Max TuiToga MaʻAtoe Moe.

*Tautua is a Samoan concept that emphasizes the importance of service to one’s family and community. It is about dedicating oneself to the welfare of others, particularly through acts that support and strengthen communal bonds. This service is not only a duty but also a way for individuals to gain respect and status in their community. In simpler terms, tautua is about helping and serving others as a core part of being a good member of Samoan society.

**Kōkuā is a Hawaiian word meaning help or support, and it extends to cooperation and mutual assistance. It involves offering help to others voluntarily and is central to maintaining strong community ties and a spirit of harmony and cooperation. Kōkuā can be seen in everyday actions, like helping a neighbor or participating in community projects, reflecting the Hawaiian value of working together for the common good.

Both concepts, while culturally specific, share the universal theme of community service and support, underscoring the importance of contributing to the well-being of others around you.

Read More Stories