Wang Xiaojun/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom

Wang Xiaojun/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom

The U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team (BCT) recently established an Army Contingency Response Force—a rapidly deployable company-size unit—to respond to crises in Europe and Northern Africa within a day.

Military leadership created this unit “in response to a requirement from the Department of the Army to make sure we have that capability ready to go,” according to Lieutenant General Donald Campbell, U.S. Army Europe’s commanding officer. The “requirement” stems from continued violence in Northern Africa and the Middle East, where U.S. diplomatic offices have continually been attacked, most tragically in Benghazi, where four U.S. citizens were killed in 2011.

The 173rd BCT is one of a dwindling number of permanently based U.S. brigades in Europe, which the Obama Administration and some in Congress have tried to remove, decrying them as wasteful Cold War relics. Two of the four BCTs have already been deactivated and removed from Europe. The justification given by the Obama Administration is that the BCTs will be replaced by a rotational battalion based in the U.S., a tiny force compared to one BCT, let alone two. This is not a legitimate substitute.

One common misperception about U.S. military bases in Europe is they exist only to protect European citizens unwilling to fight for themselves. In reality, European military bases are, as Heritage expert Luke Coffey explains, “the forward operating bases of the 21st century.” These bases maintain certain strategic, diplomatic, and humanitarian advantages.

Coffey argues that the U.S. military presence in Europe deters American adversaries, strengthens allies, and protects U.S. interests. Whether preparing U.S. and allied troops for Afghanistan or responding to a humanitarian crisis in the region, the U.S. can project power and react to the unexpected because of its forward-based military capabilities in Europe.

Troops spend much less time en route to the Middle East and Africa when deploying from Italy or Germany than if from a base in the U.S. This cuts logistical effort and costs. Furthermore, medical facilities in these permanent European locations have allowed wounded service members to get the care they need much faster than if they had to travel home.

As U.S. leaders look to future crises, they should not ignore forward permanent bases and the various capabilities they provide.