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Pentagon prepares for wartime transition

  • Story Highlights
  • Transition of power will be the first during wartime since Vietnam
  • Pentagon officials say they began transfer preparations weeks ago
  • President Bush says terrorists could use this transfer period "to attack us"
  • Smooth transition of power is a "priority for the rest of my presidency," Bush says
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By Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pentagon officials have begun preparing for the first transfer of power during war since Vietnam. They insist that the complicated transfer from the Bush administration to the Obama administration will go smoothly.

The coming transfer of power during wartime will be the first since 1968.

The coming transfer of power during wartime will be the first since 1968.

President Bush met Thursday with members of his Cabinet, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and urged them to cooperate.

"We're in a struggle against violent extremists determined to attack us, and they would like nothing more than to exploit this period of change to harm the American people," Bush said.

"For the next 75 days, all of us must ensure that the next president and his team can hit the ground running."

Teams in Gates' office and that of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, have been working on the transition for months, according to Pentagon officials. See who Obama may be considering for his Cabinet »

With ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will mark the first time a transfer of power has taken place during wartime since 1968, when Lyndon Johnson handed over power to Richard Nixon while the Vietnam War raged.

"We are preparing to make this as smooth a transition as we can," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said this week.

Although officials say the transition is in good hands, little is being said about what discussions will occur between the Pentagon teams and President-elect Barack Obama's transition teams when they begin showing up within days or weeks.

"There is a recognition that given that we are a nation at war, that energy and effort [should] be sufficiently placed to ensure that we don't drop any balls, because national security and supporting our fielded forces that are engaged in combat is of paramount importance to this country," Whitman said.

Robert Rangel, special assistant to Gates and the deputy secretary of defense, is in charge of the transition process in the Pentagon, while Marine Brig. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who reports to Rangel, is leading the effort for the Joint Chiefs.

Last month, Gates issued guidelines for the transition, stressing that the department must maintain continuity of operations and ensure efficient and effective transition between the outgoing political leaders and the incoming administration, according to Whitman.

The Pentagon has opened offices for Obama's transition staff. The nondescript offices are just down the hall from the secretary of defense's office and have been readied with computers, phones and filing cabinets.

The offices remain empty until staff members are designated by Obama's team and cleared through the White House.


"The initial contact point for the Obama transition team will be through the White House, and there will be a discussion on the way forward on the transition, and what will happen out of that will be a memorandum of understanding that says, 'these people will be working with the Defense Department,' so we know who has been sanctioned and designated by the president-elect," Whitman said.

In his comments Thursday, Bush said, "ensuring that this transition is as smooth as possible is a priority for the rest of my presidency."

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