[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/06/15/art.obama.pensacola.jpg caption="President Obama said Tuesday that the federal government will 'fight back with everything we've got' to deal with the Gulf oil spill."]
Pensacola, Florida (CNN) - Road-testing the themes of his first-ever Oval Office address for a fired-up crowd of military personnel here in this beach town, President Obama declared the federal government will "fight back with everything we've got" to deal with the Gulf oil spill.
"Yes, this is an unprecedented environmental disaster," Obama said at the Pensacola Naval Air Technical Training Center. "It's the worst in our nation's history, but we're going to continue to meet it with an unprecedented federal response and recovery effort, the largest in our nation's history. This is an assault on our nation's shore, and we're going to fight back with everything we've got, and that includes mobilizing the resources of the greatest military in the world."
With Obama advisers privately telling CNN the President will unveil a specific battle plan on the way forward in his speech Tuesday night, Obama told the military personnel - some of whom have been helping contain the spill - that he's deployed over 5,000 vessels and more than 27,000 personnel to deal with the crisis and will spare no expense in the days ahead.
"I want the people of this region to know that my administration is going to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to deal with this disaster, and that includes the additional actions I announced yesterday to make sure that seafood from the Gulf is safe to eat," said Obama. "It includes steps we've taken to ensure the safety of workers involved in cleanup and includes a new command structure to make sure states and communities like Pensacola have the autonomy and resources they need to go forward.
But in a sign of how difficult the President's task will be on Tuesday night, some people here are still not satisfied with the federal government's response. While only tar balls have been spotted on Pensacola Beach, which Obama toured earlier on Tuesday, locals believe it's a matter of days before large gobs of oil wash up on the shore so tourism is already starting to dwindle.
One restaurant owner along the beach near where Obama walked told CNN that his business has dropped 40 percent compared to this time last year, and the President's motorcade passed a litany of signs today demanding a more aggressive approach, ranging from "We Need Action, Not Words," to "Lead now!"
In a direct preview of tonight's speech, the President noted that while Pensacola is still open for business, "that doesn't mean that people aren't angry. That doesn't mean that people aren't scared."
He also hit what advisers say will be a major theme tonight, telling the military crowd that BP will be held accountable for the damages it has caused. "My administration is with you for the long haul, to make sure that BP pays for the damage it has done and to make sure you are getting the help you need to protect this beautiful coast," he said.
But check in with William "Buck" Lee, a fast-talking Floridian who runs Pensacola Beach as executive director of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, and you quickly find that local officials are still not sold on the notion that BP is the only party that needs to be held accountable.
"I was asked at our rotary meeting - who's at fault: BP or the federal government? Both of 'em," Lee told CNN during a tour of the white-sand beach with crystal-clear blue and green water that Obama saw up close.
Lee is upset that more than a month ago he asked the federal government to get him four tractors to help sift the sand once the oil arrives. But only one of the four tractors finally arrived on Monday afternoon - interestingly just a few hours before Obama arrived.
"They didn't tell us anything for 4 weeks," Lee told CNN. "They didn't tell us they approved it, but they didn't tell us they turned it down. So [they were] just sitting over there on hold so finally the word got through, we raised enough heck, they said, 'If it'll shut you up we'll get these things for you.'"
The most dramatic sign that people here are frustrated comes from the fact that several restaurants have written in their signboards on the main drag here near the beach, "Mr. President, Activate FEMA" - even though just a few years ago the emergency management agency was reviled for a slow response to Hurricane Katrina.
Obama officials stress that FEMA is already playing a coordinating role during the oil crisis and can not take on more responsibility because the President has consolidated power with Admiral Thad Allen, an arrangement that White House officials insist has worked.
But people like Lee are begging the President to bring FEMA in for a bigger role - just so they will have someone to turn to more directly. "If they brought in FEMA we could get what we need to keep our beach beautiful and work with FEMA," Lee said flatly. "Then FEMA chases down BP for the money."