Photo credit: Warta Kota - Tribunnews.com
Her love of motorcycles began when she was just a teenager, probably like many of us. “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.”
"I was in college. My friends all had bikes and I wanted to be a part of that group," Gunawan told CNN. "I went ahead and I took that leap, took the safety course ... started falling in love with it. The freedom that I get riding is, you can't compare it to anything else.”
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.
Her love of motorcycles and her sense of adrenaline that pushed her to go further with the Secret Service. "I don't have to go sit at a 9 to 5 job. It's different every single day. I never know what the day is going to bring, so I love that. At the drop of a hat, something can change, and I love that."
With her ponytail beneath her white helmet, her Sig Sauer .357 pistol on her side and her leather boots on, Officer Technician Alta "Lauren" Gunawan weaves in and out of traffic on her Harley Davidson, lights and sirens blaring as she clears the way for presidential motorcades as they traverse across the nation's capital. Commonly referred to as "motors" by the Secret Service, the unit is responsible for spontaneously stopping traffic under pressure as the motorcade approaches in order for the protectee to safely pass.
“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.
Gunawan's presence is unprecedented: she's the first woman to serve in the Motorcade Support Unit. Gunawan said she's always loved policing because of her grandfather, an auxiliary police chief back in Illinois. "I've always wanted to give back to my community and be able to make my grandfather proud," she said. The agency is made up of just over 7,000 special agents, officers and specialists who provide protection to the President, vice president and foreign dignitaries in addition to investigating financial crime.
During several interviews with major news outlets recently, she talks a little about her gender and her ethnicity.
“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.”
While she says her ethnicity did not create any hurdles, being a woman did pose some challenges, especially when it came to handling her state-issued motorcycle.
Standing at 5 feet 4 inches tall, and weighing 150 pounds, the former central Illinois resident is responsible for driving a bike of pure metal that weighs more than almost seven times her own weight at 1,100 pounds! “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.
When she was asked about the training she explained that it was intense and demanding. It consists of hands-on training for two rigorous 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.”
"We ride 24/7, 365, in all weather conditions. So, during that course, it's eight hours of being on a motorcycle. And the entire time, you're thinking in your head, 'You have to get this, you have to get this,'" Gunawan said. The hardest part of the class for her was having to maneuver and pick up the 1,100-pound bike. "I dropped the bike more times than I can think of, but I didn't let that stop me. I picked that bike up with a smile, every single time. I knew I would get it."
There is only a 40% pass rate. 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.
In a formal statement, the deputy chief of the Foreign Missions Branch of the government, Daniel Chearney 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.”
”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.”
She leaves us with this thought: ”It was extraordinary. I feel like I got to break that glass ceiling and it is an amazing feeling, because I don't want anybody to think that they can't get something. ... If you put dedication and hard work into it, you'll get it and you'll achieve your goals."