Gabriel peeled back the wrapping paper to find the surprise of his young life
-- his father, an Army mechanic back in Nevada on leave from his second tour in Iraq.
"It's my dad!" he told his classmates at Sutro Elementary School in Dayton a few miles northeast of Carson City. "Hi daddy."
Army Spc. Casey Hurles, 23, hadn't seen his son since he left in June. When he learned his leave would coincide with his son's birthday, he hatched the plan to hide out in the 4-foot tall box.
"It was such a rush of emotion," said Hurles, who said he got butterflies in his stomach while waiting in the box.
After Hurles sat down and ate a cupcake with the birthday boy, teacher Dawn VanSickle presented him with a banner from the class that read, "Welcome Home. Thank you for your service."
VanSickle said she was happy to arrange the reunion in her classroom.
"One of the first things (Gabriel) shared about himself was that his dad was in Iraq and that he was waiting for his dad to come home," she said. "He talks about his dad all the time."
Hurles, who joined the Army four years ago, is a mechanic in the 1st Cavalry Division stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. He completed one tour in Iraq and is seven months into his second tour. He expects to finish sometime between June and September.
Gabriel said he looks forward to playing with his dad over the next two weeks but understands why he has to leave again.
"He has to work," Gabriel said. "He works in the war."