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  • She Broke Through in Two Significant Ways — And Hopes to Inspire Others in the Process

    It’s an elite unit of governmental employees and likely one to which most Americans have given little conscious thought: a highly-selective, 14-person squad of trained professionals who roar alongside the president and vice-president on 1,100 pound motorcycles whenever they travel. They’re called the United States Secret Service Motorcade Division.

    And one of their crew just made history on two fronts:

    NBC News’ Hasley Pitman provides the details:

    Alta Lauren Gunawan …, 30, is the first female officer in the … unit. She is also the first Asian American woman to join the division.

    The former Illinois resident relates, “My dad is 100 percent Indonesian. My mom is all sorts of mixed everything”; and that she’s “proud” to be part of America’s burgeoning Asians population.

    (That demographic cohort is expanding at the fastest rate of any major racial or ethnic group, gaining more than eight million people between 200 and 2015 (Pew Research Center).

    The diminutive Gunawan – she stands at only five-feet four-inches – developed a love for motorcycles as a teen, purchasing “one of [her] buddies’” old bikes because she “didn’t want to be the person left out” of her group of motorcycle-riding friends.

    Regarding her entrée to the Motorcade Division

    [w]hile 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.

    “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.

    Prospective agents attend a challenging two-week course consisting of grueling hands-on training. They 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 admitted. (The two-wheeled vehicle weighs more than seven times her own weight!)

    “It continued to be mentally and physically tough. I was wiped out after I went through the training course.”

    Failing to pass the first time, Gunawan completed the course the second time around — and credits her positive attitude as key to her success.

    “I made sure the last time I went through, I picked [the bike] up with a smile every time. … I dropped it a few times but not as much.”

    As first line of defense for the U.S. president, vice president and foreign dignitaries when they are out-and-about, Gunawan acknowledges both the privilege and sobering duty her post confers on her and her fellow agents:

    “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.”

    (Whether or not she realizes it, that last comment reflects the words of Jesus Christ: “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). It’s also a riff on a somber maxim made famous by another full-time “protector” many years ago: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” – Spider Man/Amazing Fantasy # 15/1962).

    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.”

    For her part, it’s commendable if not particularly unusual that Gunawan hopes she’ll provide inspiration to young girls.

    “I’m proud to be that role model. I’ve always wanted to be able to give back. By me breaking this glass ceiling, I was able to show young girls you can achieve your goals with hard work and dedication.”

    Good for Ms. Gunawan.

    Offering a breakthrough example of a female in a highly visible place of responsibility? Terrific.

    Representing an Asian-American stepping into a role previously unoccupied by others like her? Super.

    The most worthwhile objective, however, is that she models the image of a dependable, competent public servant and an American who loves her country, motivating others to adopt the same attitude along the way.

    We all benefit when the nation is filled with citizens – man, woman, Asian- American, Irish- American, Italian- American, Whatever-American, atop a motorcycle, in an automobile, on foot —  who are like that.

    Image: Modified from: https://twitter.com/SecretService/status/1126854069216268290


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