Walter Arlt and his daughter, Olivia, pose with his Firefighter of the Year plaque, given by American Legion Post 205 in October 2017. COURTESY BTFD

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a common question asked of children.

Walter Arlt of Bluffton knew what he wanted to be. Now, as an adult, he has achieved two of his childhood career dreams.

“My mother till this day has the paper I wrote them down on while I was in kindergarten,” Arlt said. “I told her I wanted to help people. I wanted to be like my heroes I watched on the cartoons and movies.”

He wanted first to be a soldier, to help people and protect America, he said. When he was old enough, he joined the U.S. Army and served eight and a half years.

Next he wanted to be a fireman. He is now in his 12th year as a firefighter and EMT with the Bluffton Township Fire District, where he also is commander of the 12-member Honor Guard. “We conduct ceremonies, parades, and funerals for the department or other departments and community organizations that may need honors shown,” Arlt said, giving examples such as retiring of flags, dedications or similar special events.

On Oct. 10, 2017, the Bluffton American Legion Post 205 awarded him their Firefighter of the Year honors for his outstanding commitment to his work and his community. “Walt is an amazing person and is always taking the lead in helping our community in ways far beyond the norm of firefighting,” said Rick Cramer, Deputy Chief of BTFD.

Arlt recently received another honor, this time for his volunteer efforts. On Jan. 27, at the South Carolina Special Olympics Leadership Conference in Myrtle Beach, Arlt won the 2018 Champion Award for his work as the Spring Games coordinator, a job he has enjoyed for the past two years.

“Walter received the award because he decided to make a difference in the lives of special needs people in Beaufort and Jasper counties!” said Kathy Cramer, program director of SOAR Special Recreation. “He became the chairperson of Spring Games for Special Olympics two years ago. (Participation) went from 140 athletes to over 500 athletes. He made sure the whole town of Bluffton got involved, from the Mayor all the way to the police, fire department, USCB, Marines, TCL, Knights of Columbus and Hampton Hall helping with the event!”

Arlt’s daughter, Olivia, 11, helps him each year with giving out ribbons at the event. “She is my biggest supporter,” he said. “I can’t explain the feeling I get when she tells me how proud she is of her dad, and I’m her hero.”

Arlt said he chose to get involved with Special Olympics because “it’s a special world out there on the track and around these athletes. There’s no hate, there’s no judgment, there’s no politics. There’s nothing but happiness and everyone is pulling for each other to win.”

This year’s spring games will be held April 20 at May River High School football field and track. Spectators are encouraged to fill the stands to cheer on the athletes. Arlt promises “in some way, your heart will melt with excitement and joy. There’s nothing but love out there.”