When seven-year-old Gabriel Brose was asked what he wanted for Christmas, his response seemed quite simple compared to the long list of toys, games and gadgets requested by many children his age.
I want my dad, he replied. Hes at Afghanistan.
When Gabriel visited Santa, he had his list in-hand.
And his father was on top.
Gabriel said, It would be the best present in the whole world to see my dad at Christmas. Hes gonna miss it.
In addition to writing letters, Gabriel said he stayed in touch with his father through Skype. But I dont like it very much, he said. You have to wait and wait.
Although Gabriel was excited about his fathers future homecoming, he was also a little disappointed that it would fall after Christmas.
If he was coming in the door right now, I would run to him, he said as his mother, Shelly, and three-year-old sister, Sophia, walked in to join him at a recent class party.
Gabriel was excited to see his family, but the next person to walk through the door was the best Christmas present in the whole wide world.
Gabriels father, Sal Brose, stepped into Cecelia Rogers first grade class and for a moment the father and son paused. Gabriel fled his chair and ran across the classroom, landing in his fathers arms. Sal picked up his misty-eyed son and they remained silent during a long embrace.
After their reunion, Sal sat with his son and they began to talk while Gabriel continued to touch his dads beard and patting his face, as if it was assurance of him being there.
Sal was originally scheduled to return home in February 2013. For him, it was also the best Christmas present in the world.
This just means the world to me, Sal said.
The worst part of being deployed is being away from your family during the holidays. The brotherhoods you form while you are over there give you tight bonds. But all we want to do is leave, go home, and see our families.
Sal said his early homecoming was a gift.
A few of the guys I work for are unmarried and do not have any children. So, they stayed and their gift to me was to come home.
Sal arrived home the previous night while Gabriel, Sophia and his 12-year-old sister Jordan were sleeping.
So thats why we went to bed early, Gabriel excitedly shouted to his mother. You tricked me!
Gabriel began telling his dad about the hand made ornaments he made for the classroom tree.
Sal said he made a tree, too.
Did you see the pictures of it? he asked Gabriel. I pulled a tree right out of the ground and made a Charlie Brown tree. And we put things like chicken packets and baked beans on it and pin lights at night to make it glow.
The two continued to talk as Shelly stood back and watched.
It kind of takes your breath away, she said. I dont know how else to describe it. For him to be able to spend Christmas with his daddy is overwhelming.
Sal had surprised Sophia earlier that morning and plans were being made to surprise Jordan as she exited the bus that day.
Well, we got one more to go, said Shelly.
Gabriel told his dad he didnt need anything else for Christmas.
But I wrote down a few more things. I wrote a big brother, a puppy and night vision goggles, he added.