While we wait for a fuller account of what led to the shooting death of two U.S. soldiers in a bus outside the Frankfurt Airport, we can start by reflecting on why they were there: because they were protecting us.

Many have asked why the U.S. still needs troops in Europe at all. Can’t we just cut those bases and save a few bucks? Isn’t it just another place our troops are in harm’s way?

The answer is pretty simple. Our troops are there to keep us safe. Protecting the homeland and America’s interests requires putting our troops in locations around the world to get our enemies before they get us. The bases in Europe are big part of that. They provide the means to get U.S. forces to problem areas such the Middle East more quickly, cheaply and efficiently.

In the case of Afghanistan, the U.S. facilities in Europe are lifesaver. Troops wounded on battlefields in Afghanistan can be under the care of some of the best doctors, in world-class medical facilities, at the military’s Landstuhl medical center in hours. In many cases, our European partners share or cover the cost of these military facilities and the supporting infrastructure. Maintaining the same capacity in the U.S. would be a lot more expensive and require a lot more ships and planes to do the same things our military does out of Europe day in and day out. Cutting our military forces overseas would just give us less capability that costs more to maintain.

The other dumb suggestion, when it comes to saving money in the Pentagon’s budget, is talk about cutting the size of the military. The men and women under arms are the most valuable and important part of our force. They know they are putting their lives on the line every day. They have been targets on battlefield and at bases here at home. They know just wearing the uniform makes them a target.

Yet every day they put that uniform on. They enlist and re-enlist in record numbers. They are brave, honest and dedicated. They are “employees” that are the envy of any employer anywhere. Yet all the talk is of cutting the most valuable asset in our arsenal. That makes no sense. 

When we get more facts on what happened in Frankfurt, we can draw more lessons. Until then, let’s remember: They were there defending us -- and they are the most important defense we have.

James Jay Carafano is Deputy Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation

James Jay Carafano is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies  The Heritage Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @JJCarafano.