Secret Service officer becomes first woman, first Asian American to join motorcade division

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.

Image: Secret Service Makes Diversity Strides with the First Asian-American Female Motorcycle Officer

"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.

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WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 4: A member of the United States secret Service stands guard as Marine One carrying President Donald Trump takes off from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Dec. 04, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Members of the Secret Service wait for US President Donald Trump to walk to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House December 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Secret Service stand on the North Lawn after US first lady Melania Trump received a Christmas tree during an event at the White House November 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 17: Members of the U.S. Secret Service stand on the roof of the West Wing prior to the arrival of Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras to the White House, October 17, 2017 in Washington, DC. A left-wing socialist, Tsipras was critical of Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. But with tension high between the U.S. and Turkey, Trump and Tsipras are looking for renewed ties as they discuss defense, economic issues, energy security and cultural ties, according to the White House. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A member of the Secret Service's uniformed division patrols Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House on October 27, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Marine One, carrying U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, departs the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. Trump plans to visit the U.S. Secret Service training facility in Beltsville, Maryland. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 2: (AFP OUT) Members of secret service counter-assault teams get ready for U.S. President Donald Trump departure from the White House September 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The President and first lady are traveling to Texas to visit individuals impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 2: (AFP OUT) Secret service agents get in position prior to U.S. President Donald Trump departure on Marine One from the White House September 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. The President and first lady are traveling to Texas to visit individuals impacted by Hurricane Harvey. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: U.S. Secret Service Police officers stand guard in the rain outside the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington Friday July 28, 2017. (Photo by J. Lawler Duggan/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A member of the Secret Service patrols in front of the White House, illuminated in pink for Breast Cancer awareness month, in Washington, DC on October 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP/Getty Images)
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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."

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