STUTTGART, Germany– Recognizing that the transition to a new presidential administration could be “a time of great vulnerability,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today that his Joint Staff already is working to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible for the next commander in chief. “A lot of work is going into planning for the transition,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said while visiting the U.S. Africa Command and U.S. European Command headquarters.

Mullen also touched on the issue during a Pentagon town hall meeting earlier this week, saying he stood up a transition team on the Joint Staff “to look at planning and possibilities and [to] be able to be the very solid underpinning from a national perspective at a time of change in the country.”

But while the team goes to work, Mullen emphasized, personal politics is off-limits for anyone in uniform. A recently updated Defense Department directive, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces,” details limits placed on servicemembers to ensure they remain apolitical.

“It’s important for us in the military to remain neutral,” Mullen said. “I am anxious to make sure that everybody in uniform stays out of politics.”

Mullen stressed that doesn’t mean military people can’t or shouldn’t vote. “Please do vote,” he said. “But understanding what the rules are, and not getting pulled in, even inadvertently, [to political activity] is really important.”

Mullen conceded that the upcoming conventions and November elections will create an up-tick in political activity, and urged servicemembers to beware. “It’s one of those things where, if a little red flag goes up, that’s a big flag,” he said. “And you ought to pay attention to it.”

Asked directly how he will advise the next president, Mullen emphasized that he will continue carrying out his responsibilities to President Bush until the next president takes office. On Jan. 20, regardless of who wins the election, “I will give my best advice to whoever that may be,” and carry out that president’s orders, he said.

Even as the presidency changes, challenges facing the country won’t, he said.

Mullen said he’s had “tremendous opportunity to advise the current president,” and expects to foster a similar relationship with the next president as well.

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STUTTGART, Germany– Recognizing that the transition to a new presidential administration could be “a…