By MADISON PHARIS, Four Points News May 3, 2020
While students across the country are adjusting to their new online classes, one Vandegrift student was able to present a unique opportunity for her classmates.
Meagan Henry, a junior at VHS, was able to get a U.S. Secret Service agent — who has served and protected all five presently living presidents of the United States — to recently speak to Viper students via Zoom.
John Gutsmiedl, godfather for Meagan and her 8th grader sister Caitlin, has been friends with their dad, Tom, since they were 14. The two became friends at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and played football and ran track together.
When Meagan’s dad had talked about prior business meetings he had through Zoom, she was inspired to ask if Gutsmiedl could speak to her Advancement Via Individual Determination class.
Her AVID class has been preparing for their college and career paths and Meagan’s goal is to someday work in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I think it is an exciting area of work and Mr. John is in a very unique and coveted position,” said Meagan, whose family lives in Steiner Ranch.
Secret Service agent Gutsmiedl spoke to Meagan’s AVID class on April 17. Other Viper students joined including some from Peer Assisted Leadership Service, student council, and a family community service class during the two and a half hour Zoom meeting.
Gutsmiedl currently works with implementing and supervising security measures to protect the U.S. President, Vice President and high ranking officials. When on duty, he is to be at an arm’s length from those he is protecting at all times.
He has worked for the U.S. Secret Service for 31 years after graduating from the University of San Diego in 1988. He made it to Assistant Special Agent in Charge – Presidential Protective Division in October 2017, something he says was a life goal of his.
Meagan prepared two pages worth of questions prior to the presentation last week that she gathered from her classmates. The kids asked everything from “how does protection work” to “what kind of criminal cases he has worked on.” He also talked about the best and worst parts of his job and the coolest places he has been.
He explained how the best parts of his job are getting to travel the world and seeing world leaders.
“We get to witness history as it happens and it is a privilege to be a part of it,” Gutsmiedl explained.
Meagan is inspired by his presence at important decision making meetings with global leaders.
The VHS students were also able to hear about the negatives of his job.
“There have been a lot of missed holidays, birthdays, football games, soccer games and dance recitals,” Gutsmiedl said. “I have kept track of all my travel and when I add up all the days I have been on-the-road, it totals more than eight years away from home.”
Gutsmiedl shared that while the job keeps him away from home, his family has always been supportive of his choice.
VHS teacher Rebecca Wustrau said it was an honor to have such a seasoned secret service agent willing to spend time with her class.
“Mr. Gutsmiedl’s depth of character is amazing. He has a sincere passion for his service to our country and watching him speak was inspiring,” she said. “I was riveted to my seat the entire time. We even managed to keep a group of teens and their families engaged for over 2 hours!”
Wustrau said the virtual discussion helped her students during this time of disconnect and the unknown.
“I think (it) was a burst of excitement and energy for so many of our students. We had amazing questions and engagement,” she added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a pop in the # of secret service applications in a few years!”
A new twist to Gutsmiedl’s job over the past several months has been getting tested often for COVID-19 due to being in close contact with the President and others, and for being responsible for five hundred agents, he said.
Other parts of his job include conducting and supervising investigations involving credit card, debit card and computer fraud. He is also a leading expert in the counterfeiting of U.S. currency and fraudulent schemes associated with the electronic transfer of funds, false identification documents and devices.
Gutsmiedl proudly continues his work for his country. The Secret Service was the only agency that fulfilled his desire for performing both investigations and protection.
That is also something Meagan is interested in, serving her country and looking towards investigations more than patrol work.
From the Zoom meeting, Meagan and other students were able to learn what it takes to do the kind of work Gutsmiedl does. From being “fearless and willing to give your life for someone else,” she said, to all the challenges and strict requirements to be considered for the job itself.
“I am so thankful and blessed to have him in my life,” Meagan says.