Appleton, Wis. (WFRV) – “I always wanted to join the military. My grandpa was a marine so, for me, I really wanted to be a navy corpsman, they’re the marine medics. My grandpa was so proud to be a marine and I remember growing up, him talking about it and how much he loved it, and it was just always something that I wanted to do,” Rene Zehr recalled.

And so, that’s exactly what Zehr did.

Joining the Navy reserves as a corpsman in 2018, Zehr had no idea the world and her life were about to change when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

“I got called to go to New York City for covid in March of 2020. When I got called, it was 5 pm on a Friday, by 6 am Saturday I was gone. I was on a plane to New York,” she said.

From her small town of Neenah to the hardest hit area of the pandemic in New York City, Zehr was placed in a field hospital, built in just two days.

The work was grueling.

“We worked 12 to 14 hour days, full body suit. I was in an N-95, a regular mask, a hair net, everything. It was kind of crazy being in it, when we didn’t know anything about it,” Zehr remembered.

But gratifying.

“These people were being separated from their families, so really what I found was the most rewarding for me, was sitting and talking with them,” she said.

Since returning from New York, Zehr has remained in the reserves, does funeral honors for the navy, keeping as many military ties as possible.

But she was feeling a disconnect in her everyday life, struggling as both a veteran and a woman, with traumas she faced while serving.

That was until a local glassware business out of Appleton, called Benshot, hosted an all-women’s veteran networking event.

“Once I got here, it was such a wonderful experience being around other women veterans and being able to connect, being able to talk with them and know that I’m not alone,” she said.

It led Zehr to a job as a social media coordinator for Benshot, which does a lot of fundraising for veterans.

But mostly, the event saved Zehr’s life, and she hopes she can help do the same for others.

“It really changed everything. I’ve gotten connected with so many women veterans, and been able to reach out about certain things that we’ve been through and gone through together and it’s really helped me,” said Zehr.

“It’s helped me really come forward with a lot of things that happened while I was in the military so I’ve been able to talk more openly now that I’m connected to these groups. It’s just so wonderful, people are a phone call away and that’s how I am too, if a veteran needs something I’m always there, so I want to keep that going because it saved me,” she said.