ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - For a Soldier, having asthma can be challenging. And it can be even more so for someone who sings opera. But Capt. Karmi Rivera, a plans and operations officer with First Army, has succeeded in both fields despite the ailment.Music is a longtime passion for Rivera, who began singing at age 9, started learning classical pieces in high school, and joined a lyric theater in college. Meanwhile, the Caguas, P.R., native said she was drawn to the Army after her service member husband suffered a severe traumatic brain injury in combat when their son was 10 days old.Rather than succumbing to the situation, Rivera resolved to make a difference. The chance to be able to help if someone else was ever in a similar situation prompted her to enlist, and Rivera went straight from basic training to officer candidate school. It took two and a half years to complete the requirements to make that jump, but a determined Rivera persevered until it happened.Since then, she has placed a premium on taking care of subordinates, and said, “You are no longer a leader if you are more concerned with your evaluation than your Soldiers.”Rivera cited an uncle who retired as a sergeant major for instilling this mindset in her when he volunteered for combat in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.“He said, ‘What type of leader would I be if I didn’t go with them? They need seasoned people. I’m training them to go to war. They need me at war with them,’” Rivera recalled. “That was very inspiring to me and he was a big influence in my life.”Because of those talks with her uncle and the time she spent as an Army spouse, Rivera had a good idea what the military would be like.“My expectations and reality were very similar,” she said. “It was very clear to me what I was getting into and it was the best decision I could have ever made. The Army is going to have to kick me out because of old age. I love it.”Moreover, she has found the Army Values crucial to sharpening her skills and abilities.“Before, I was not a runner, but because of the Army, I run and enjoy it. The discipline and integrity that the Army instills is amazing.”She also brings that commitment and discipline to her passionate hobby of singing opera. A mezzo-soprano (mid-range female voice), Rivera is slated to perform Habanera from Carmen later this year.“I chose that one because it’s well known and it allows for interaction with the public,” Rivera explained.Additionally, she will be in the chorus for a performance of Madame Butterfly this summer. But while she has embraced the art, it was far from her first musical love. She concedes, “I came to opera very accidentally.”So accidentally, in fact, that it came while making a joke. She ribbed a high school classmate about the classmate’s voice sounding like a frog when she tried to hit a certain note, so the friend challenged Rivera to do it.“I sang the note and the voice instructor was right behind me and he said, ‘You sang that perfectly. You should sing opera.’ I started vocalizing and one thing led to the next.”She put aside her dream of belting out Broadway hits onstage to focus on opera, and after a year of lessons, she was standing before an audience. While the training was complex, she learned that the key to success lay in controlling the air.“At the end of the day, it’s about air when it comes to developing a voice. Air is everything. If you don’t have the right support for the voice you end up harming the vocal chords,” Rivera said.Adding to the challenge was Rivera’s asthma.“My voice instructor always told me that I was an anomaly - that somebody with asthma shouldn’t be able to do some of the things that I’m able to do,” she recalled.But she persevered, tapping into the same resilient energy she brings to her military career, her twice-daily gym workouts, and her pursuit of a master’s in international relations. Eventually, Rivera ascertained that that her medical condition improved because of her musical pursuits.“Because you are having to do so many exercises, it strengthens your lungs and helps with the asthma,” she said.While her medical condition has been somewhat controlled, she has yet to find anything to help with the pre-performance jitters, which remain a factor.“I get nervous. It has never left me,” Rivera said, while emphasizing that the crowd reaction helps to temper the nerves.“I feel a connection to the audience. I like looking at the audience and their reaction,” she said. “If I can find one person who I feel is immersed in the music, I am joyful. That’s what I love, when they can feel the emotions that I am trying to bring. It is a fantastic feeling, from joy to sadness to passion, to whatever that character is trying to bring. All fears go away with that connection to the audience.”That is when the hard work that defines her pays off and it’s all worth it.