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The next time President Donald Trump or Vice President Mike Pence take a trip, Alta Lauren Gunawan might very well be roaring alongside them on her 1,100 pound motorcycle as part of the elite Secret Service team keeping them safe.
Gunawan, 30, is the first female officer in the United States Secret Service Motorcade Division’s highly selective 14-person unit. She is also the first Asian American woman to join the division.
“My dad is 100 percent Indonesian. My mom is all sorts of mixed everything. Being mixed is awesome,” Gunawan said. “I’m proud to be Asian American.”
The U.S. Asian population has the fasting growing rate of any major racial or ethnic group, growing more than 8 million people, from 11.9 million to 20.4 million, between 2000 and 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
Gunawan’s love for motorcycles started when she was a teenager.
“A lot of my friends had one, and I didn’t want to be the person left out,” she said. “I ended up buying one of my buddies' old motorcycles.”
While she says her ethnicity did not create any hurdles, being a woman did pose some challenges for Gunawan, especially when it came to handling her state-issued motorcycle.
Standing at 5 feet 4 inches tall, the former central Illinois resident is responsible for driving a bike of pure metal that weighs more than seven times her own weight.
“Being a female in such a male-dominated field, it's definitely a lot harder. You want to live up to what they can do,” she said.
The rigorous course consists of hands-on training for two weeks. Trainees learn to weave through traffic cones, avoid obstacles and “break and escape” at high speeds. “I definitely fought that bike way more than I really wanted to,” Gunawan said. “It continued to be mentally and physically tough. I was wiped out after I went through the training course.”
After failing to pass the first time, Gunawan completed the course the second time around and credits part of her success to having a positive attitude.
“I made sure the last time I went through, I picked [the bike] up with a smile every time,” she said. “I dropped it a few times but not as much.”
Gunawan is the first line of defense for the U.S. president, vice president and foreign dignitaries when they are traveling.
“It’s definitely an honor to be able to say you get to guard the president, not a lot of people can say that but it also comes with a lot of power and responsibility,” she said.
However, Gunawan said people do not realize just how much of a mental strain the job can be.
“When we do a motorcade, not only are we trying to ride the bike, but we have to ride on sidewalks or watch out for pedestrians or bicyclists and any unknown threats we don’t see,” she said.
Daniel Chearney, deputy chief of the Foreign Missions Branch, said he is proud to have Gunawan in their ranks. “Her work ethic and dedication embody what it means to be a uniformed division officer with the Secret Service and we can’t wait to see what else she is able to accomplish.”
Gunawan hopes she will serve as an example for young girls.
”I’m proud to be that role model. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back,” she said. “By me breaking this glass ceiling, I was able to show young girls you can achieve your goals with hard work and dedication.”